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Escapists Sci-Fi film is a term that aptly labels sci-fi films of the thirties. Movies during the 1930s were largely impacted by the advent of sound and dialogue, and by the effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Audiences began to pursue films with more escapist themes, leading to a decline in serious speculative films. Studios were reluctant to finance the expensive futuristic sets necessary for many sci-fi stories. Instead, the decade saw the rise of film serials: low-budget, quickly-produced shorts depicting futuristic, heroic adventures, melodramatic plots, and gadgetry.

They continued to use science fiction elements like space travel, high-tech gadgets, plots for world domination, and mad scientists. Other elements of science fiction were carried into the burgeoning horror genre, driven by the massive success of the Universal Studios' Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Many Universal Horror films, such as The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde prominently featured mad scientists and experiments gone wrong.

End of the World - 1931

Frankenstein - 1931

Island of Lost Souls - 1932

The Invisible Man - 1933

King Kong - 1933

Mad Love - 1935

The Bride of Frankenstein - 1935

Things to Come - 1936

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars - 1938

Son of Frankenstein - 1939


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - 1931

Henry "Harry" Jekyll is a well respected member of London society. In his personal life, he is pre-engaged to Muriel Carew, the daughter of a brigadier general. In his professional life, he is a medical doctor, scientist and academician. He theorizes that in each man is a good side and an evil side which can be separated into two. In doing so, the evil side can be controlled and the good side can live without worry, in combination leading to the betterment of society.

In his experiments, he uses himself as the subject to test his hypothesis. His evil side, who he coins Mr. Hyde, escapes into London, and terrorizes party-girl Ivy Pierson. Jekyll, aware of Hyde's goings-on, decides to stop his experiments because of the suffering he has caused Ivy. What Jekyll is unaware of is how ingrained Hyde is in Jekyll's life. This film is certainly considered a classic like Frankenstein.

Frederich March won the Oscar Best Actor and the film was Oscar nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Adaption Writing. At the Venice Film Festival, it also won Most Favorite Actor and Most Original Fantasy Story. The remarkable Jekyll-to-Hyde transition scenes in this film were accomplished by manipulating a series of variously colored filters in front of the camera lens. Fredric March's Hyde makeup was in various colors, and the way his appearance registered on the film depended on which color filter was being shot through.

The Mask of Fu Manchu - 1932

Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of the British Secret Service warns Egyptologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) that he must beat Fu Manchu in the race to find the tomb of Genghis Khan. The power-mad Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) intends to use the sword and mask to proclaim himself the reincarnation of the legendary conqueror and inflame the peoples of Asia and the Middle East into a war to wipe out the "white race". Sir Lionel is kidnapped soon afterward and taken to Fu Manchu.

Fu Manchu tries bribing his captive, even offering his own daughter, Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy). When that fails, Barton suffers the "torture of the bell" (lying underneath a gigantic, constantly ringing bell) in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to reveal the location of the tomb. Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) insists on taking her father's place on the expedition, as she knows where the tomb is. She finds the tomb and its treasures with the help of her fiance Terrence "Terry" Granville (Charles Starrett), Von Berg (Jean Hersholt), and McLeod (David Torrence).

Nayland Smith joins them soon afterward. McLeod is killed by one of Fu Manchu's men during a robbery attempt, after McLeod kills one of Fu Manchu's men. When that fails, an emissary offers to trade Barton for the priceless artifacts. Despite Terry's misgivings, Sheila persuades him to take the relics to Fu Manchu without Smith's knowledge. However, when Fu Manchu tests the sword, he determines that it is a fake (Nayland had switched them). Terry is whipped under the supervision of Fah Lo See, who is attracted to him.

Meanwhile, Fu Manchu has Barton's corpse delivered to Sheila. When Nayland tries to rescue Terry, he is taken captive as well. Terry is injected with a serum that makes him temporarily obedient to Fu Manchu and he is released. He tells Sheila and Von Berg that Nayland Smith wants them to bring the sword and mask to him. Sheila senses something is wrong, but Von Berg digs up the real relics, and they follow Terry into a trap. Captured by Fu Manchu, the party is sentenced to death or enslavement, but not before Sheila manages to bring Terry back to his senses.

Sheila is to become a human sacrifice, Nayland Smith is to be lowered into a crocodile pit, and Von Berg placed between two sets of metal spikes inching toward each other. Terry is prepared for another dose of the serum, which will make him a permanent slave of the whims of Fu Manchu's daughter. However, Nayland Smith manages to free himself, Terry, and Von Berg. Using one of Fu Manchu's own weapons—a death ray that shoots an electric current—the men incapacitate the arch-villain as he raises the sword to execute Sheila.

When Fu Manchu drops the sword, Terry picks it up and hacks him to death. While Terry frees Sheila and carries her away, Nayland Smith and Von Berg incinerate Fu Manchu's followers using the same weapon. Safely aboard a ship bound for England, Nayland Smith tosses the sword over the side so that the world will be safe from any future Fu Manchu.

The Invisible Ray - 1936

A visionary doctor, Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) invents a telescope that can look far out into space — into the Andromeda Galaxy — and pick up rays of light that will show the Earth's past. Looking at the past on a television-like screen, a group of assembled doctors as well as Dr. Rukh see a large meteor hit the earth thousands of years ago. Rukh convinces the doctors to go on an expedition to find the meteor that appeared to land in Africa.

While in Africa, Rukh finds the meteor but is exposed to strong radiation ("Radium X") from the rock, which makes his touch death on the spot, and Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi) develops a serum that holds this effect at bay, and takes a piece of the stone back to Europe and uses it to heal people, including curing the blind. Rukh, suffering from the radiation, glows at night when not treated, and is slowly losing his mind.

The situation is complicated by the romantic relationship between his wife, Diana (Frances Drake) and Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton) - the nephew of Lady Arabella Stevens (Beulah Bondi), who was part of the African expedition. Crazed with a desire for revenge, Rukh follows his enemies to Paris. There he fakes his own death, upon which Ronald and Diana marry. Rukh then uses the toxic radiation poisoning imparted to him by Radium X exposure to kill off the members of the expedition.

He saves Ronald and Diana for last, but finds himself unable to kill his wife. Rukh's hesitation brings him close to the point where the radiation poisoning will become fatal to himself. He had been able to stave off the terminal stage by taking the antidote developed by Dr. Benet, but Rukh's blind mother (who had foreseen her son's undoing, and had her blindness healed by the meteor) smashes the antidote bottle, and he bursts into flames as he jumps out a window.

The Devil-Doll - 1936

The Devil-Doll is a sci-fi horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring a cross-dressing Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O'Sullivan as his daughter, Lorraine Levond. The movie was adapted from the novel Burn Witch Burn! by Abraham Merritt. Paul Lavond (Barrymore), who was wrongly convicted of robbing his own Paris bank and killing a night watchman more than seventeen years ago, escapes Devil's Island with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) a scientist who is trying to create a formula to reduce people to one-sixth of their original size.

The intended purpose of the formula is to make the Earth's limited resources last longer for an ever-growing population. The scientist dies after their escape. Lavond joins the scientist's widow, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), and uses the shrinking technique to obtain revenge on the three former business associates who had framed him and to vindicate himself. Lavond clears his name and secures the future happiness of his estranged daughter, Lorraine (O'Sullivan), in the process.

Malita isn't satisfied, and wants to continue to use the formula for personal gain. She tries to kill Paul when he announces that he is finished with their partnership, having accomplished all he intended, but she ends up blowing up their lab and killing herself.

Deluge - 1933

An apocalyptic science fiction film, released by RKO Radio Pictures, about a group of worldwide natural disasters which lead to the destruction of the earth. The film is very loosely based on the novel of the same name by S. Fowler Wright, with the setting changed from England to the United States.

This special effect sequence later inspired a scene in The Day After Tomorrow (2004). The impressive effects were done by a team who later worked on the H. G. Wells-scripted film Things to Come (1936).

IMDB Reviewer's Synopsis: The suspenseful beginning is genuinely scary, in spite of its preposterous science: Puzzled scientists discover that the world's weather is going through some pretty weird changes - and that a menacing global storm is brewing on the horizon. But that's not all: Major earthquakes and massive floodings begin to mysteriously occur - and the ocean levels start rising rapidly.

Then comes the crucial scene - the tremendous earthquake capped by a gigantic tidal wave, that catastrophically destroys and buries New York under the vast ocean that has now blanketed most of the Earth. Seeing NYC crumble as the earth rips open, with the almighty ocean pouring in, is quite scary on its own offbeat terms.

The story then focuses on the fate of a handful of survivors, struggling to live-as-best on a small portion of land that was spared the great plunge. A gang of violent renegades ARE out to make hell for the heros, as well as raping and murdering the women, which happens offscreen, making its repelling inferences that much more ugly.

I, Accuse - 1938

This French sci-fi drama horror centers around Jean Diaz, after suffering the horrors of World War I, Diaz immerses himself in scientific research seeking a machine to prevent war. His success is thwarted by the government, so he summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves to protest. Eeek!

Buck Rogers - 1939

In this film, the bullet cars used in the movie were the same ones used in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. Much of the background music was originally used in The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Man They Could Not Hang - 1939

Regarding The Man They Coud Not Hang, the film was part of the Son of Shock package of 21 titles released to television in 1958, which followed the original Shock Theater release of 52 features one year earlier. This was also one of the 12 Columbia titles, the other 61 all being Universals.


Escapists Main

End of the World


Island of Lost Souls

The Invisible Man

King Kong

More Escapists Sci-Fi

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