Thursday, October 13, 2011
DEAD MEN WALK (1943)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*
PRC's DEAD MEN WALK follows the same basic pattern as their earlier MAD MONSTER (also starring George Zucco) and THE DEVIL BAT starring Bela Lugosi, because in most respects the villain gets all the narrative attention. However, DEAD does change things up a little in that Zucco acts as both villain and hero, playing a dual role as Satan-worshipping vampire Elwyn Clayton and his good twin brother Lloyd.
Though no one expects great directing from PRC's B-pictures, I'd say that director Sam Newfield (brother to Sigmund Neufeld, head of PRC Studios) turns in a very unremarkable job even compared to his own earlier Zucco effort, THE MAD MONSTER. Newfield's writer on both MONSTER and DEAD was another longtime toiler in B-efforts, Fred Myton. Both also collaborated on a film I reviewed here earlier, NABONGA, and both are remembered for little beyond their horror works.
What's more frustrating about DEAD is not the static look of the direction but a sense of wasted potential. As noted in my review of SEVENTH VICTIM, it was rare in the 1940s for even horror films to allude to present-day Satanism. The master fiction-work of vampirism, DRACULA, even alludes to ties between the vampire-lord and Satanic worship. But the allusions in DEAD are scattered and meaningless, functioning as little more than advertising buzz-words.
I mentioned an Oedipal current in the MGM horror-film MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. With some effort one might see one in DEAD as well, but it, like the references to Satan, gets no dramatic elaboration and so takes on no symbolic resonance. Evil Elwyn comes back from the dead as a vampire and proceeds to torment his good brother Lloyd by doing the sort of heinous thing Lloyd would never do: molesting Lloyd's (and presumably Elwyn's) niece by sucking her blood. But the niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle) remains nothing but a passive victim and generates no interest in her own right.
Only in one scene does the script touch on Freudian patterns more directly. Elwyn has been preying on Gayle a little while, causing Lloyd great consternation in that he knows he can't convince anyone that his brother's back from the dead as a vampire. Gayle's fiancee David, like some other locals in the town, suspect that kindly Lloyd has gone bonkers and is somehow making Gayle sick. There's one scene in which David challenges Lloyd in a misdirected attempt to save Gayle from her paternal protector. However, with relatively little complication Lloyd manages to persuade David to help him fight the vampire, and David does prove industrious in trying to keep the intefering townspeople out of the way.
Nedrick Young, the actor playing David, incidentally, became better-known as a screenwriter than an actor. Dwight Frye does an acceptable job playing "Zolarr," a mad hunchback who worshipped his Satanist master and who essentially retreads old Renfield-ground for this poverty-row Dracula. The final scene, in which Lloyd sacrifices his life to rid the world of his "shadow-self" Elwyn as well as zany Zolarr, shows the most imagination. Just as Elwyn seems close to killing Lloyd, a distant rooster crows and announces the rise of the sun, whereupon Elwyn begins losing power and soon succumbs. It's rather odd that a vampire who abhors the sun should have an assistant whose name sounds like "solar," but the cock's-crow, probably introduced just to get across the idea of the dawning sun as quickly as possible, does add some verve to the climax.