B&W, 1936, 66 mins.

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Starring Boris Karloff, Richardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn, Marguerite Churchill, Warren Hull, Barton MacLane / Produced by Louis F. Edelman / Music by Bernhard Kaun / Written by Robert Adams and Lillie Hayward / Cinematography by Hal Mohr

Format: Laserdisc - Image / Warner (MSRP $29.95)

A strange, compelling collision between Warner Brothers crime films (like Boris Karloff's The Criminal Code) and Univeral horror, The Walking Dead belongs to a slew of films all the way into the mid-'40s in which Karloff portrays reanimated dead men out for revenge. What sets The Walking Dead apart in the minds of late night horror viewers is its strangely poetic tone, with a sympathetic portrayal of the shambling, undead Karloff.

John (Karloff), a down and out musician released from prison for a murder he didn't commit, is framed by the mob for the murder of the judge who sent up him the first time. After his execution, John is revived by Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn, a.k.a. Kris Kringle); unfortunately, John decides to go out for a walk and, sometimes inadvertently, leads the evil mobsters to their doom.

The first half of the film, which avoids supernatural cliches and focuses on the evil machinations of big city mobsters, elicits so much empathy for Karloff's plight that The Walking Dead ultimately becomes more of an eerie tragedy than a standard blood and thunder horror film. Director Curtiz (most famous for Casablanca), was already a pro at the genre thanks to Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum. His imaginative visual flair provides plenty of contrast between standard horror elements (graveyards, mist, shadowy trees, dark laboratories, etc.) and modern settings like courtrooms and offices. Barely over an hour long, the film never wears out its welcome and manages to pack in an impressive amount of action and character detail into its brief running time. As usual, Karloff etches a memorable horror portrayal as the piano-playing zombie; alas, we may never see the likes of him again.

Another of Image's welcome laserdisc titles licensed from Warner Brothers, this presentation should impress anyone used to those murky old TV screenings. However, Warner has obviously not lavished the same preservation methods on its horror films as those used by Universal; some noticeable tears and scratches appear during the first reel in particular. However, image quality is extremely good, considering, with rich contrast and a satisfying level of detail. Sound quality is consistently clear and intelligible, with only some mild deterioration attributable to the film's vintage. Side two presents the final half hour in CAV, which should be handy for the finale.

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