Movie Review: The Unearthly (1957)
“An army of mutants on a mission from hell!”
The Unearthly (1957)
Director: Brooke L. Peters
Cast: John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes
Synopsis: Patients at a doctor’s rest home are experimented on by a mad scientist trying to perfect a surgical procedure that will bestow eternal life upon its recipients.
“He came to me a puny, broken man,” declares mad scientist Dr. Charles Conway, played with authoritative dignity by John Carradine (The Face of Marble, The Patsy). “Now he has the strength of a Hercules!” “And the brain of a chicken,” responds Mark Houston (Myron Healey – Apache Territory, The Incredible Melting Man), a killer on the run who’s just about to be blackmailed into becoming a future subject of one of Conway’s mad experiments. Both of these lines are delivered with complete sincerity and seriousness, and exemplify why The Unearthly is one of cinema’s few bad movies that is actually quite fun to watch.
Conway is a well-meaning but completely mad scientist who believes he’s found a cure for mortality in the form of an artificial gland which he inserts into the neck of his drugged and unsuspecting victims, most of whom believe they are staying at his isolated house as part of their treatment for psychological problems. That chicken-brained Hercules the good doctor and Houston were discussing is a hulking – but now simple-minded – brute of a chap called Lobo, who is played by the towering Z-grade horror icon Tor Johnson (Road to Rio, The Beast of Yucca Flats), a Swedish wrestler whose presence breathed a few weak lungfuls of air into films that really should have been buried in dark deep vaults somewhere under a desert in New Mexico. He looks scary, but he’s kind of sympathetic here, wordlessly taking the verbal abuse of jittery patient Danny Green (Arthur Batanides – Spartacus) and sadly mewling “poor little girl” as he strokes the cheek of an unconscious young patient (former playmate Sally Todd – G. I. Blues) about to go under the knife. And Johnson delivering his immortal line “time fo go ta bed!’ is a moment that every self-respecting bad horror movie fan should see at least once before dying.
Shot in just six days, The Unearthly encapsulates everything that is good and bad about the 1950s Z-movie drive-in horror picture. It was designed to be little more than background noise for teenagers, but it’s better than that thanks to its mile-a-minute plot and some neat make-up effects; the gruesome aftermath of Todd’s botched operation – the doc should never have used that No 23 scalpel – is particularly effective thanks to the work of make-up man, Harry Thomas, an unheralded workhorse who laboured on countless of these kind of movies. A glimpse into Conway’s cellar once the Doctor has met his inevitable bad end is also one that lingers, and which evokes memories of Erle C. Kenton’s 1932 horror classic Island of Lost Souls.
(Reviewed 17th January 2017)