One might well point to Rudolf
Klein-Rogge as the archetype from which all subsequent
movie mad doctors are descended. As the gonzo scientist
Rottwang in Fritz Lang's benchmark film Metropolis,
his influence permeates the presence of every horror
film scientist since the silents. Likewise, the preponderance
of Dr. Jekylls resonates through film history, informing
in some way every sci fi psychotic we've come to love.
With that in mind, we submit 10 truly shining examples
of screen psychosis:
10. The Mad Ghoul (1943)
No list of movie maniacs is complete without
at least one appearance by the great George Zucco. The
Mad Ghoul is a thin cut above the poverty row dreck
to which Zucco was inevitably sentenced, and without
him, would survive as just another flat, cliched shocker
with little to recommend it. With his customary chilling
bravado, Zucco calmly makes a zombie out of dull David
Bruce. Somehow, it's all supposed to make Evelyn Ankers
9. She Demons (1958)
Rudolph Anders, a mainstay of early television
and low-budget cinema, was easily one of B filmdom's
more convincing Nazis. This time out, the doctor from
Deutschland and his stranded storm troopers perform
exotic experiments on hapless native girls in an attempt
to restore the beauty of Anders' disfigured wife. Some
find She Demons laughable in contemporary context,
but this poverty-stricken production is ponderously
morbid and scary in spite of its missteps. From director
Richard Cunha (Giant From the Unknown, Missile to
the Moon, Frankenstein's Daughter, 'nuff said!).
8. The Unearthly (1957)
John Carradine portrayed lots of demented
docs in his day, but Unearthly finds him just
a wee bit further over the top than usual in a seedy,
creepy, laughable shocker that also features Tor Johnson,
Myron Healey and Allison Hayes. Damn-near everything
is wrong with this turkey, but one sympathizes with
Carradine's overtly theatrical attempts to hold the
whole ragged production together through sheer force
7. Maniac (1934)
Exploitation-meister Dwain Esper cooked up
this depressing farrago about a kook who kills a doctor
and assumes his identity. The heart-tugging highlight
depicts the faux medico blinding his cat with a penknife
and gulping down the animal's eye like a jelly bean.
I won't even mention the two floozies in the basement
who battle it out armed with hypodermic needles.
6. I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
The premier mad doctor of the 1950s, Whit
Bissell, once more rises handily to the occasion, lending
a degree of genuine class, not to mention unsettling
menace to this pedestrian, albeit stubbornly enjoyable
film.The same year saw him performing a similar turn
in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, sparing no sacrifice
in his insane attempts to validate his crackpot theories.
5. Invisible Ghost (1941)
Throughout his career, Bela Lugosi was saddled
with any number of ill-conceived mad doctor scripts.
Some of his best-known films were of this dubious variety.
Of the many shoddy Monogram shockers in which Lugosi
appeared, for my money, Invisible Ghost survives
as the best. Energetically attempting to forge atmosphere
from the drab settings, fledgling director Joseph H.
Lewis figures in the film's success, as does Bela's
typically full-blooded performance.
4. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Many have lauded the outlandish and winning
work of Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, and the veteran
actor certainly deserves the critical gush. His swishy,
menacing portrayal is the linchpin in what is arguably
Universal's most thoroughly enjoyable golden horror.
Like the film, his performance rings true today, as
it can be viewed as both frantically campy and blood-curdlingly
earnest. It's no easy feat for an actor to convey both
3. Doctor X (1932)
Spoiler warning! Though everyone's favorite
maniac, Lionel Atwill is prominently billed, the mad
doc this time turns out to be -- surprise -- Preston
Foster?! "Synthetic flesh," he hisses luridly
whilst molding a prosthetic limb with which to strangle
his rivals. Lee Tracy hams up the comic relief, but
beautiful sets, alluring color photography and Michael
Curtiz' crackerjack direction make this a must-see.
2. Island of Lost Souls (1933)
Easily among the most underrated horror films
of the original sound cycle, this unsettling adaptation
of Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau is certainly flawed,
but undeniably creepy, due in large measure to the bravura
performance of Charles Laughton. Sweaty, unfeeling and
brutally offensive, Laughton's Moreau is a little too
convincing to be entirely enjoyable.
1. Murders in the Zoo (1933)
As the only mad zoologist to make the list,
Lionel Atwill kicks off this lighthearted romp by sewing
shut the lips of a romantic rival, shrunken-head style.
This from Edward Sutherland, one of Paramount's top-flight
directors of light comedy. The grim goings-on are clumsily
out of kilter with Charlie Ruggles' broad comic relief
and Randolph Scott's stiff stagecraft. But relish every
second of Atwill's unbridled sadism as he jealously
sets about eliminating wife Kathleen Burke's perceived