From Steinbeck to Dracula to the mad Dr. Bernardo who creates a giant, killer breast in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask), John Carradine appeared in over 200 movies during a career that spanned more than half a century. Naturally, I chose to review all of them.
Kidding. I kid.
Right, so this being the kind of blog it is, I thought I’d pick a few examples of Carradine’s horror films from the 40s through the 80s. And not just any horror movies, but some of his schlockier moments.
Revenge Of The Zombies
Carradine’s career started a decade earlier, but his reign as King Of The B-horror Movies doesn’t begin in earnest until probably 1943 with Captive Wild Woman. In it, he plays an evil doctor who begins experimenting on people. It’s the kind of role he’ll revisit time and time again, including that same year in Revenge Of The Zombies which I chose over Captive Wild Woman for one reason. Lots of people like to point to Shock Waves as the movie that started the Nazi zombie subgenre so many of us have come to love. I would argue, however, that 34 years before Shock Waves, Revenge Of The Zombies took some of the very first steps toward linking the Third Reich and the living dead. True, the zombies in this movie aren’t Nazi zombies. They’re not even Night Of The Living Dead zombies. These are good ol’ fashioned voodoo zombies. Or semi-voodoo zombies being created with a little scientific help from Carradine as (wait for it) Nazi scientist Dr. Max Heinrich Van Altermann. Alter? Man? Nice. Incidentally, Carradine shows up in Shock Waves too but doesn’t even live past the first half hour.
Who can’t love the combination of Carradine and Tor Johnson, especially playing characters originated by Ed Wood, Jr? That said, it’s worth pointing out that a good number of the actors in The Unearthly can at least kind of act, especially in comparison to how the movie would have fared under someone of Wood’s, umm, oh let’s call it “vision.” This is yet another of Carradine’s evil doctor roles as well as where we see the gaunt, squinty, baggy-eyed Carradine most of us remember. All that’s missing is the beard.
I couldn’t narrow this decade down to one movie, so I ended up with two.
Like The Unearthly, Astro-Zombies boasts another, uh, “great” team-up in the form of Carradine and Tura Satana. Okay, his role is minimal and mainly serves as mere exposition. It also sounds like some of the dialogue was cut and pasted from The Unearthly. Satana’s character looks like a horrifying mash-up of Divine, Peg Bundy, and Amy Winehouse, and not at all in any good ways, but she’s still Tura Satana. Truth be told, it’s hard to pay attention to any of the actors when the Astro-Zombies look like Sleestaks. Towering in its awfulness, The Astro-Zombies will definitely be on the exam kiddies.
SKULLS- 13 (cuz it’s that bad)
Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula
In which Carradine looks less like any Dracula (going by the name James Underhill. Heh) you’ve ever seen and more like a cross between Satan, the evil hypnotist from Devil Doll, and the evil magician from Frosty The Snowman. He manages to chow down on a good bit of scenery (albeit entirely with his eyes), and refers to the town doctor as a “backwoods female pill slinger.” Definitely something to be beheld.
Well, if you’re gonna write about the King Of B-horror, naturally there has to be a Bee-horror movie involved. Legend has it the release of The Bees was delayed until well after the release of The Swarm. I’m not sure why. I’m one of the few people who actually liked The Swarm and thought it had some genuinely creepy moments. The Bees, on the other hand, let’s just say it may have fared pretty well as a horror comedy. Carradine is again a German doctor (though not a Nazi this time) who works with and, it turns out, can talk to bees. Apparently the atrocious German accent doesn’t interfere with this ability. To be honest, I wanted to write about The Sentinel as well, but I decided to save it for a later post, first because there is so much worth talking about that it needs its own write-up. Second, like Shock Waves, Carradine is in less than 30 minutes of the movie and has only a handful of lines.
By the late 80s, Carradine suffered increasingly from rheumatoid arthritis. Many of his appearances were either cameos or little more than such.
In many ways, The Nesting tried to capitalize on, if not directly rip off, The Shining and The Sentinel. It’s set in a big, old house that was once a brothel and where a mass murder took place. Naturally, the place is haunted by the victims. Lauren (Robin Groves) has visions of the murders. Familiar? There’s a drowning that’s scored like Scatman Crothers’s death in The Shining as well as a stairwell scene that could have been lifted right out of The Sentinel. Again, Carradine serves a mainly as a vehicle for some admittedly crucial backstory, but he manages to deliver it with his by now customary style. Despite its flaws and because of him, I still find The Nesting a cool little flick.
And there it is, a brief, oversimplified, probably not so representative overview of John Carradine’s horror career. We’ll go ahead and let the man himself have the last word: “I am a ham! And the ham in an actor is what makes him interesting.”