Serial Review: Undersea Kingdom (1936)

Release Date: May 30th, 1936 (first chapter)
Directed by: B. Reeves Eason, Joseph Kane
Written by: Tracy Knight, John Rathmell, Maurice Geraghty, Oliver Drake
Music by: Harry Grey
Cast: Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Monte Blue, William Farnum

Republic Pictures, 226 Minutes total (12 episodes), 100 Minutes (TV)

Review:

Undersea Kingdom, on its surface, should be pretty cool. However, it is an underwhelming dud. It was featured sparingly on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when they needed some shorts. But that program never played the serial in its entirety.

This was made in response to Universal’s hit serial Flash Gordon, but it pales in comparison and certainly isn’t as remembered. Honestly, other than popping up a few times on MST3K, this serial is forgettable.

In this epic, there is a suspicious earthquake. A professor leads an expedition in a super submarine to what is believed to be the location of Atlantis. The heroes arrive at the mystical continent and find themselves in a civil war between Sharad, who leads the White Robes, and Unga Khan, who leads the Black Robes. It is obvious who the bad guys are because this was the 1930s and shit was simpler back then. Unga Khan has a superweapon, the Disintegrator, which he plans to use to destroy the world with earthquakes unless he is made the ruler of Earth.

“Crash” was added to Ray Corrigan’s name in an effort to sound close to “Flash”. Frankly, this attempt at a ripoff was pretty damn blatant about it. He would continue to use this name in other serials he filmed after this one.

The only cool thing about this serial is Unga Khan’s Volkites. They were metallic warriors that looked like very primitive versions of the classic Cybermen from Doctor Who. Granted, they look more like Cybermen trying to wear Dalek armor over their heads and torsos.

Undersea Kingdom is kind of fun but that fun runs out quickly, as the serial is bogged down with retreading familiar territory and for utilizing tropes that were probably already played out in 1936.

I like stories about Atlantis and I love classic serials like this. Unfortunately, the two weren’t a perfect marriage or even a good one.

So does this deserve to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer? It certainly does! The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Film Review: Night of the Demons (1988)

Release Date: October 14th, 1988
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
Written by: Joe Augustyn
Music by: Dennis Michael Tenney
Cast: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley

Paragon Arts International, Republic Pictures, International Film Marketing, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Eat a bowl of fuck! I am here to PARTY!” – Stooge

I’ve never been a huge fan of this 80s horror picture. While it does have its fans and it went on to have sequels and a remake, it just never hit the mark for me.

Night of the Demons feels like someone wanted to make their own version of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead mixed with Lamberto Bava’s Demons with an added in teen sex comedy element. That’s not a bad mixture, really, but the film feels cheap and like a retread without much of anything new to offer.

Plus, the demons look so repulsive and off putting that it is almost a distraction. At least Bava’s Demons had amazing style and was more creative with its visual repulsiveness.

The makeup is pretty good, considering the quality of the rest of this film’s special effects. However, the demon dragon skeleton thing looks like a character from The Muppets, even if it is supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil. It’s an awful monster that looks as if it were constructed by some kid that didn’t know how to assemble one of those wooden dinosaur bone puzzles. Also, everything else looks just as amateurish.

The cinematography, the shots, the lighting – it’s all bad.

The acting doesn’t get any better than the rest of the film’s faults and really, you don’t care for a single person in this mess of a film.

The only really cool thing with the picture was the main girl dressing up like Alice from Alice In Wonderland. It helped to give the film an otherworldly vibe and the girl felt like a real fish out of water except it was Alice in Hell instead of Wonderland.

I also liked the use of Bauhaus’ “Stigmata Martyr” when Angela was transforming into a demon with her strange dance.

Also, Linnea Quigley is in this so boobies are guaranteed. But she’s the biggest star, which goes to show the quality of talent in front of the camera.

Night of the Demons is a forgettable film, other than it pushing the bar with its repulsiveness.

Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

Serial Review: Spy Smasher (1942)

Release Date: April 4th, 1942 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, William Lively, Joseph O’Donnell, Joseph F. Poland
Based on: character by C.C. Beck, Bill Parker
Music by: Mort Glickman
Cast: Kane Richmond, Marguerite Chapman, Sam Flint, Hans Schumm, Tris Coffin

Republic Pictures, 214 Minutes total (12 episodes), 100 Minutes (film)

Review:

Spy Smasher might not be a well-known and beloved character in modern times, but he was the focal point of what is considered by many to be the greatest serial of all-time.

The character of Spy Smasher was a comic book hero published by Fawcett Comics, similar to their other hero Captain Marvel. And also like Captain Marvel, he is now owned by DC Comics and appears in their titles now and again.

What makes his serial Spy Smasher so well regarded is the fact that it had superb writing for its genre. Also, it had some unique cliffhangers. It also bucked trends when one of the cliffhangers saw a character die. The serial formula, at the time, always showed the person escape danger in some miraculous way.

Spy Smasher also has some of the best cinematography and writing a serial has ever had. The bulk of the acting duties were on the shoulders of Kane Richmond and his leading lady Marguerite Chapman.

The serial is twelve chapters but each one is well paced and executed. It also resonated well with audiences as our hero was pitted against Nazis during the World War II era.

As far as serials go, Spy Smasher was damn good and one of the most historically significant to come out.

Serial Review: Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)

Release Date: December 13th, 1940 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Joseph F. Poland, Barney A. Sarecky, Sol Shor
Music by: Cy Feuer, Ross DiMaggio, Mort Glickman
Cast: Edward Ciannelli, Robert Wilcox, William Newell, C. Montague Shaw, Ella Neal, Dorothy Herbert

Republic Pictures, 267 Minutes total (15 episodes), 100 Minutes (film)

Review:

I love serials. Although, I hate cereal.

One is a really long movie of bizarre yet awesome proportions with cliff hangers, splitting it into lots of chapters. The other is a bunch of soggy crap that babies and weirdos eat that only works if it has colorful marshmallows in it and a pedophile leprechaun on the box.

The serial I watched most recently is another one put out by Republic Pictures. It doesn’t feature a famous comic book hero but it has a mad scientist and a new superhero created just for this story.

The villains is, you guessed it, Doctor Satan. But he isn’t the same Doctor Satan that would appear in those early Rob Zombie splatter movies.

The hero is a masked vigilante known as The Copperhead. His real identity is Bob Wayne, who is not related to Bruce Wayne but is seeking justice and revenge on Doctor Satan over the death of his stepfather.

The Copperhead is kind of cool and Republic should have spun this into a series. It was later remade though into a Turkish action film called The Deathless Devil (Yilmayan seytan), which I have never seen but I’m going to try and find.

The visual style and tone of this serial is consistent with other ones done by Republic Pictures. The action is pretty well done. Overall, it is the story that is its greatest feature. It is well-paced with cliffhangers that feel less cookie cutter. Also, the characters are just cool.

At some point, I will do a list ranking the best serials and this will be in the upper echelon, especially for something that doesn’t rely on already well-known characters.

It is engaging and exciting and full of a bunch of cool stuff.

 

Serial Review: Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

Release Date: March 28th, 1941 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Ronald Davidson, Normas S. Hall, Arch B. Heath, Joseph Poland, Sol Shor
Based on: characters created by Bill Parker, C.C. Beck
Cast: Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan, Jr., William Benedict, Louise Currie, Robert Strange, Harry Worth, Bryant Washburn, John Davidson

Republic Pictures, 216 Minutes total (12 episodes)

Review:

Captain Marvel, often times erroneously called Shazam, was a hero very similar to Superman. He also shares his name with several Marvel Comics characters. He is, however, a creation by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and was originally published by Fawcett Comics from 1939-1953. He was resurrected by his new owners DC Comics in 1972, where he is still a major presence today.

In 1941, not too long after his comic book debut, Captain Marvel was adapted into a serial by Republic Pictures.

In this serial, we see our hero take on the Scorpion, an evil masked villain hellbent on ruling he world. But wasn’t that every villain in every serial?

Young Billy Batson finds himself on an archaeological expedition trying to discover the lost secret of the Scorpion Kingdom in Siam. Mainly, they are looking for a device, the Golden Scorpion. Billy reads a warning, not to enter the crypt where the device is. When the scientists enter the crypt, the device shoots a beam, resealing the entrance. Because Billy heeded the warning, he is chosen by the wizard Shazam to be given awesome powers. As the buff and manly Captain Marvel, Billy saves the scientists from danger and thus begins his adventure.

Following the cave mayhem, the scientists divide up the lenses from the Golden Scorpion device between them. In the meantime, the villainous Scorpion steals the device and then sets out to acquire all the missing lenses. So what you have now is a race against time, as the Scorpion will most assuredly get all the lenses from the wimpy scientists unless Captain Marvel rushes to stop him before he succeeds and rebuilds the Golden Scorpion.

Adventures of Captain Marvel is a good mix of superhero fun and an Indiana Jones type of story. It is like a classic Iron Fist tale but the Iron Fist is more like Superman.

In regards to filmmaking quality, it is consistent with most of the other Republic Pictures. The cinematography is decent but nothing exceptional, the directing is good and the acting, for a serial, isn’t half bad.

The one really big positive, is that above all else, this serial is just fun and engaging. I owned this on VHS with a couple other serials when I was younger and this was the one I probably watched the most. I’ve just always liked archaeological adventure stories and this has enough of that to whet my palate.

Adventures of Captain Marvel is one of the better serials of its day. Check it out if you’re into these things, which if you’ve read this far, you probably are.

Serial Review: Dick Tracy (1937)

Release Date: February 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: Alan James, Ray Taylor
Written by: Morgan B. Cox, George Morgan, Barry Shipman, Winston Miller
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Cast: Ralph Byrd, Kay Hughes, Smiley Burnette, Lee Van Atta, John Picorri, Robert E. Marcato, Carleton Young, Fred Hamilton, Francis X. Bushman

Republic Pictures, 290 Minutes total (15 episodes), 73 Minutes (Theatrical feature)

Review:

The Dick Tracy franchise is pretty old school but it had sort of a resurgence in the early 1990s with the Disney film starring Warren Beatty, Madonna, Al Pacino and a slew of other top names in Hollywood, at that time. It was really my introduction to the character and his mythos. Since then, I have watched a lot of the older stuff. This serial is the first live action incarnation of the Dick Tracy comic strip.

The serial stars Ralph Byrd as Dick Tracy and it would be the role he was most known for. He played Tracy a few more times after this but it was this serial that put him and Dick Tracy on the cinematic map.

In this story, Detective Tracy is pitted against a masked crime boss who is both called The Spider and The Lame One. He leads a gang of villains called The Spider Ring. While committing various crimes throughout the serial he uses a vast array of strange devices, as was common in serials. Most notably, he uses a flying wing equipped with a sound weapon to destroy the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. He steals the secret experimental “Speed Plane” and even captures Dick Tracy’s brother and turns him evil, forcing brother to fight brother.

Overall, Dick Tracy is a pretty captivating and entertaining serial. It isn’t the best or the most original thing out there but it is one of the better serials put out by Republic Pictures. This, like other Tracy serials, isn’t necessarily great in the action department but it delivers as a detective thriller and its ability to generate suspense is its best trait. It created a good template for Republic and they would use this formula in later serials.

The battle between the Tracy brothers gives this an emotional and human element lacking in most other serials. It lived up to the spirit of the popular comic strip and provided a sense of drama unlike any serial before it.

From a filmmaking standpoint, it was pretty straight forward. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles or artistic flourishes to make this visually unique. However, it was still well shot and well produced. It feels less hokey than similar serials and seems to display more talent overall, whether in front of or behind the camera.