The Walking Dead (1936)


An ex-convict (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein) is executed for a crime that he didn’t commit. After the execution, a brilliant scientist (Edmund Gwenn, The Trouble with Harry) brings the dead man back to life with devastating consequences.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“What effect did the experience of death have on his subconscious mind?”

What happens when a film studio known for gangster films hires one of cinema’s top horror actors? Well, you end up with a movie that’s part crime melodrama, part supernatural spookfest — Warner Bros.’s The Walking Dead fuses gangster clichés with horror tropes in a playful, seamless manner.

The Walking Dead was stylishly directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca). This is Curtiz’s fourth and last horror movie (The Mad Genius, Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum are the other three). The director uses Dutch angles to convey a warped sense of reality. I’m usually against these types of visual tricks — I’m a purist who believes the camera shouldn’t call attention to itself — but the tilted shots do fit the story rather well. There is also a wonderful “resurrection” scene.

Like most horror films from that era, The Walking Dead has an anti-science streak that I always find interesting if troublesome. The film mistakenly conflates scientific curiosity with ungodliness. Many popular classics of literature — Mary Shelley’s 1823 book Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, just to name a couple share the same point of view as The Walking Dead, so I don’t want to be too hard on the film.

Today, thanks to writers like Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick, the fear regarding scientific research has metamorphosed into tech-anxiety. Cinema has reflected these changes quite well; another example of the symbiotic relationship between literature and cinema. The Walking Dead combines Victorian morality with the social and economic malaise of the 1930s, a curious experiment that works better than expected.

The film also contains one of Boris Karloff’s very best performances. It belongs right up there next to his monster (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein), his old mummy (The Mummy) and his grave robber (The Body Snatcher). Karloff’s performance is an amazing collection of pathos and mannerisms. His body language is particularly brilliant — Karloff could have been a great mime! The rest of the cast is good, but this is Karloff’s show.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Walking Dead is a genre-hybrid glued together by Karloff’s magnificent performance. Sadly, the film isn’t as well-known as other Karloff movies. I thought it was an interesting and fun movie that I recommend to both fans of Warners’ gangster films and viewers who enjoy Universal horror movies. B&W, 66 minutes, Not Rated.

One response to “The Walking Dead (1936)

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