Metropolis (1927)

Who’s in it?: Nobody you know; unless you know them from this.

What’s it about?: Class warfare in a dystopian future.

How is it?:  Metropolis doesn’t seem like a natural pick for a box set of horror movies, but the more I think about it, the more appropriate it is. There’s a mad scientist, but that doesn’t make it a horror movie. His creations are more into encouraging social rebellion than murdering villagers. There’s not even an iconic horror actor to justify the movie’s inclusion.

It is however a German Expressionist film like horror classics Nosferatu, The Golem, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. That by itself doesn’t make it a horror film, except that the imagery of Metropolis is as stylishly unsettling as any of those films. It’s meant to frighten us; just not for thrills. It wants to scare us into action, or at least into thinking a certain way.

It gets praised a lot for good reason. It’s a lavish spectacle that still looks amazing 85 years later. The special effects hold up, the action is beautifully choreographed, and the world-building is stunning and believable. The world of Metropolis feels like a real place, though not one you’d want to live in unless you were ridiculously rich.

The theme of rich bastards vs. poor workers is more timely than ever, but it’s the handling of that theme where the movie falls short. It’s ridiculously unsubtle and you’re told exactly how you’re supposed to feel every step of the way. If it’s not through imagery, it’s through speeches.

But even though the execution is simplistic, the message isn’t. Metropolis isn’t a Marxist propoganda film about the Man keeping the workers down. It’s about the classes learning to co-exist, not just peacefully, but symbiotically. That’s a powerful statement and I have to like the movie for making it in such a visually impressive – if not exactly elegant – way.

Rating: Good.

Maniac (1934)

Who’s in it?: No one you know.

What’s it about?: A former vaudeville actor kills and murders the mad scientist he’s been apprenticing for; then carries on the the crazy man’s legacy much too well.

How is it?: Wow. This thing, you guys. It’s part mad scientist flick, part exploitation film, part homage to Edgar Allen Poe, all masquerading as sort of an educational film on psychoses. The plot about the actor and his boss is cut with intertitle cards containing clinical-sounding quotes from a journal about the criminally insane. As the actor descends deeper into madness, there are truly disturbing scenes of violence against women and animals. There are also relatively harmless, but no less ridiculous scenes of women standing around in their underwear and posing while reciting exposition. The movie is a hot mess.

The only positive thing I’ll say about it is that it’s kind of fun to play Spot the Poe Reference. I’ve no idea why the writer gets dragged into it, but part of the movie is an adaptation of “The Black Cat” and there’s an explicit reference to “Murders in the Rue Morgue” at one point. Poe deserves better.

Rating: Turkey

The Mad Monster (1942)

Who’s in it?: George Zucco (Dead Men Walk); Glenn Strange (House of Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein)

What’s it about?: A mad scientist (Zucco) creates a werewolf (Strange) to take revenge on the scientific community that mocked and ridiculed him. They mocked and ridiculed the scientist, that is; not the werewolf.

How is it?: It’s worth watching if only to see Glenn Strange out of his Frankenstein make-up. For those who don’t recognize Strange’s name, he played the Frankenstein Monster for Universal after a couple of failed attempts with Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi. In fact, if you count Abbott and Costello (which you totally should because it rules), Strange played the Universal Frankenstein Monster as much as Karloff himself; the other two times being in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Thanks to his ability to disappear into the role, he’s better at it than anyone but Karloff, too. The Mad Monster shows just how enormous a guy Strange was and it’s a joy to see him play the big, dumb bohunk that evil Zucco turns into a werewolf.

It’s kind of cool that Zucco initially develops the werewolf serum in order to create an army of werewolf super-soldiers for WWII. I’d like a Captain America crossover, please. Unfortunately, those plans get sidetracked for the revenge scheme, but that’s well done too, at least at first. There’s a really cool scene early on where Zucco talks to the ghostly figures of his former colleagues in the science community. It’s clear that the figures are all in Zucco’s imagination and his arguing with them makes it obvious just how crazy he is.

It’s too bad that the movie drags towards the end and that Zucco gets his comeuppance in a totally random way that has nothing to do with any action of any character in the movie, but the overalls-wearing werewolf makes up for that.

Rating: Good.