Once again, John Carradine has stepped into the role of the mad doctor with 1957’s The Unearthly, a strange title to be sure, but one that does immediately call forth images of horror and of which this film does purportedly claim to be. While mad doctor/mad scientist movies are a dime-a-dozen, they consistently remain a source of fascination for the viewer otherwise they would not have been churned out in such a regular fashion. They also happen to be a lot of fun as there is nothing better than trying to figure out just what the madman will do – said doctor in question being as crazy as a loon and all. Carradine always makes for a great villain and such is the case here, as he plays Dr. Charles Conway. Like many a man, whether doctor or scientist or neither, he is fascinated by eternal life and he means to find its secret no matter the cost.
You have to suppose that if you have the skills to do so, why would you not try and understand the secrets of immortality? The problem with it all is that all of these mad scientists, no matter who plays them on film, tend to look within the human body thinking that somewhere in our DNA we hold that piece of information. If humanity does indeed hold that secret within ourselves, you would think that it would have been discovered by now, especially with all of these insane experiments that these doctors tend to do on film. Carradine not only looks for that secret, but a part of him almost seems to enjoy experimenting upon his hapless subjects. Every one of them think they have gone off to some retreat where he will solve their problems, whatever they might be and yet, sooner or later, most of them end up on his operating table. The lucky ones die under his knife, those that survive are forced to live a very sorry existence and it is indeed, all quite horrible and horrific.
The special effects are few and limited only to makeup, showcasing the freaks that Carradine has produced. Most of them look like rejects for the casting of The Wolf Man, yet they are quite effective in detailing the madness that Carradine perpetrated upon them. Only one of his experiments seemed to have any success and it was not because Carradine succeeded in his quest, it was merely for the fact that the patient did not die or turn out like those poor subjects in the basement. That experiment would be played by Tor Johnson, a man who starred in many a B or Z feature and unknowingly, would provide the only moments of comedic relief in the film.
Aside from Johnson and Carradine, Myron Healey would take the lead as the main protagonist and hero, protecting the beautiful and much underrated Allison Hayes from Carradine’s suspect actions. Adding to the eye-candy in the film would be Marilyn Buferd as Carradine’s assistant and Playmate Sally Todd as another one of the ‘inmates’. Though the film was obviously made on the cheap, the script was quite decent and everyone happened to put in a good performance, making the movie quite suspenseful and even engrossing at times. It is by no means a masterpiece of the cinema, but there are movies that are far worse than The Unearthly which managed to make for a very enjoyable seventy-three minutes.
3 out of 5