For Reel

The Walking Dead (1936)
November 29, 2015, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Michael Curtiz
4.5 Stars
The Walking DeadWarner Brothers didn’t take as quickly to the horror genre as other studios, and when they did the films were grounded in a sense of contemporary America, their mysteries always left somehow explicable. The Walking Dead finds its horror elements sandwiched between a more typical Warner Brothers gangster melodrama (the presence of character actor heavies like Barton MacLane only amplifies that feeling). In the first third of the film, Boris Karloff serves as a sad, highly empathetic patsy. This film, as all of Karloff’s films inevitably are, is about eyes–it is remarkable in true Kuleshovian fashion that Karloff’s eyes could be rendered as either menacing or empathetic depending on the context. Once he is resurrected as the film’s “monster”, he is more in line with Frankenstein than a typical undead villain. Watch the series of murder scenes in which Karloff confronts the men who had him framed. He arrives on the scene first menacing, confronting the men with the question, “Why did you have me killed?” When his adversaries, in a fit of terror, stumble into their own accidental demises, Karloff’s face turns to absolute horror–he is not a brute, and even as the deaths are caused by his will, he serves as a conflicted agent of fate and justice. Cinematographer Hal Mohr’s expressionistic lighting grounds the film in the haunting, gothic tone that one would expect from the first wave of horror pictures in the 1930s, and significantly it uses Karloff’s ever-transforming face as a brilliant canvas. When the undead Karloff roams a cemetery near the end of the film, the image is at once familiar of Universal monster pictures and devastating in its own right–it is not an vision of ghostly menace, but rather one of a lost, broken man with no place else to go.

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