6.2/10
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2 user 1 critic

Return of the Terror (1934)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Olga Morgan
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Dr. Leonard Goodman
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Joe Hastings
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Pudge Walker
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Daniel Burke
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Steve Scola
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Franz Reinhardt
Robert Emmett O'Connor ...
Inspector Bradley
Renee Whitney ...
Virginia Mayo
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Mr. Tuttle
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Mrs. Elvery
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Jessup
George Humbert ...
Tony
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Storyline

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Genres:

Mystery

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Details

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Release Date:

7 July 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Volta do Terror  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This film has been preserved by the Library of Congress. However, Warner Archive is not planned release "Return of the Terror" on DVD and has never been shown on TCM. See more »

Connections

Remade as The Sinister Monk (1965) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Viewed at the Library of Congress
4 May 2016 | by (LI, NY) – See all my reviews

Return of the Terror is one of those odd titles that classic horror fans have heard about for years and yet know little about. Upon release there was a great promotional poster of a fang-toothed villain, which promises twisted, evil horror. As the previous reviewer noted, he doesn't appear. There's also the promise that this is a sequel to the first sound horror film, THE TERROR (1928), based on a story by the always-reliable Edgar Wallace. This isn't a sequel, so that promise has been dashed as well.

So many classic horror films shamefully insinuate these kinds of promises that ultimately are never delivered that I find it all very forgivable. After all, there's really not even a moment in THE BLACK CAT (1934) that has anything to do with Poe. And THE RETURN OF DR. X (1939) seemed to insult that Lionel Atwill's DOCTOR X (1932) ever existed.

With that stripped out of the way, I found myself very much enjoying this movie. It's pure B-film escapism. It's more of a mystery than a horror film, but there are horror elements there. I think this film breaks some sort of record for most teeming rainfall of any 1930s film. The lightning storm lasts over 3 reels and creates a great chaotic environment. There's a very cool "fluor x- ray" machine that makes one's skin invisible so only the bones of the body are visible. The electrical machinery zaps just like in DOCTOR X, another Warner Brothers film. If you like skeleton imagery, this will be right up your alley. There's also plenty of suspects skulking around in black raincoats and large-brimmed hats and a knife-wielding crazy person. Most of all, the film has a nice steady pace. It's not a directorial masterpiece by any standards, but it moves.

The plot involves a doctor (John Halliday) who is tried for murder for assisting in the deaths of terminally ill patients who requested for his assistance. However, separate deaths via arsenic-poisoning are pinned on him thanks to a shady morgue aide (J. Carroll Naish). Dr. Redmayne's lawyer (Irving Pichel) arranges for him to plead insanity to avoid the death penalty and the doctor is put away in a sanitarium. When he finds out he will not be able to appeal, he escapes and is on the loose, returning to Morgan Rest Home where his colleague (Lyle Talbot) and fiancé (Mary Astor) are. However, with the storm, and several dubious mental patients (Robert Barrat, George E. Stone) arriving also, he remains on the run. When deaths of people he's associated with occur (with notes signed "The Terror" – his nickname for the Kevorkian-like assisted killings), everyone is out to find him, but is he the real killer?

The acting is solid throughout. Robert Barrat is a real chameleon. Hard to believe this is the same guy in SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (1933) and BAD LANDS (1939). I love how his character always has to have a cigarette, even in the pouring rain. Frank McHugh finally gets more to do than just wisecrack. He joins in with the Inspector and helps solve the case. It's refreshing to not see him joke on every single line he has as he did in many similar films. John Halliday is terrific too. The scene when he is knocked over the head in the basement is a wonderful scene. The director, Howard Bretherton, wisely tracks the camera over to the flooding water coming in the window, giving the scene suspense and sorrow – the best moment in the film. There's nice simple tracking shots that show the story well, such as the opening outside the courthouse. In my opinion the film has a great surprise ending; certainly for a Warner B-movie. John Milne had written KENNEL MURDER CASE (1933) a year earlier.

Some interesting tidbits – Maude Eburne plays Mrs. Elvery, a character in Wallace's original play. Arthur L. Todd later shot the film THE SMILING GHOST (1941). In it the "ghost" looks incredibly similar to the sharp-toothed villain in the promotional poster. Did he recall his work on this film??? The film's opening title is also classically spooky, showing a similar silhouetted figure prominently hovering over some dead trees; his cape blowing in the howling wind. George E. Stone gets to be called "runt" near the end, which is a funny premonition of his Boston Blackie days.

This isn't a lost classic – it was never considered great when it came out. It's easily a cut above poverty row B-films and is at least as entertaining as the average mystery-horror from the time period.


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