The Walking Dead (1936 film)

The Walking Dead is a 1936 American horror film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Boris Karloff, who plays a wrongly executed man who is restored to life by a scientist (Edmund Gwenn). The supporting cast features Ricardo Cortez, Marguerite Churchill and Barton MacLane. The film was distributed by Warner Bros.

The Walking Dead
Directed byMichael Curtiz
Produced byJack L. Warner[1]
Screenplay by[1]
Story by
CinematographyHal Mohr[1]
Edited byTommy Prat[1]
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 29, 1936 (1936-02-29)
Running time
66 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2]
Box office$300,000[3]


John Ellman (Boris Karloff) has been framed for murder by a gang of racketeers. He is unfairly tried and despite the fact that his innocence has been proven, he is sent to the electric chair and executed. Dr. Evan Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn) retrieves his dead body and revives it, as part of his experiments to reanimate a dead body and discover what happens to the soul after death.

Dr. Beaumont's use of a mechanical heart to revive the patient foreshadows modern medicine's mechanical heart to keep patients alive during surgery. Although John Ellman has no direct knowledge of anyone wishing to frame him for the murder before he is executed, he gains an innate sense of knowing those who are responsible after he is revived. Ellman takes no direct action against his framers; however, he seeks them out, wishing to know why they had him killed. Each dies a horrible death, and in the end it is their own guilt that causes their deaths.

Confronting the last two villains, Ellman is shot. Having fulfilled his divine mission to bring about justice, he dies, just before he would have explained death and the afterlife to the curious Dr. Beaumont. Beaumont is warned not to continue his experiments, citing the Biblical Scripture, "For the LORD thy God is a jealous God (Deut. 6:15a)."



The Walking Dead's executive producer Hal Wallis wrote to the production supervisor Lou Edelmen on August 16, 1935 that he has sent him a six page outline for a film titled The Walking Dead .[4] The original story for the film was written by Ewart Adamson and Joseph Fields.[5] On November 1, director Michael Curtiz was sent the draft of the film.[4] A few days before shooting was scheduled, actor Boris Karloff voiced problems involving his character John Ellman.[6] These issues included Ellman's lack of speech which he felt was too close to his role in Frankenstein (1931), and Ellman's Tarzan-like agility which he felt would induce laughter.[6] Wallis brought in three more writers for the film.

In addition to Karloff's stunted dialogue, this film's resemblance to Universal's Frankenstein is most obvious when Edmund Gwenn's character revives Karloff; including the dramatic change in music, the pulsating lab equipment, off-kilter camera angles, and finally when Gwenn says, "He's alive".

The Walking Dead was filmed at Griffith Park, California and Warner Bros. Studios between November 23 and December 1935.[1]


The Walking Dead premiered on February 29, 1936.[1] Writing in the March 4, 1936 issue of Variety, the reviewer "Odec" said that the film would provide "limited satisfaction" for film patrons with "a yen for shockers." The reviewer wrote that "The director and the supporting cast try hard to give some semblance of credibility to the trite and pseudo-scientific vaporings of the writers, but the best they can produce is something that moves swiftly enough but contains little of sustained interest." Further, "Odec" predicted that "Karloff will have to sold on past performances" as The Walking Dead "lets him down badly."[7]

United Artists Associates syndicated the film to local US television stations as part of its 58-film package, "Science Fiction-Horror-Monster Features." The package became available on May 15, 1963.[8]

See also


  1. Mank, 2001. p.184
  2. "The Walking Dead". BFI Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  3. Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 192-193
  4. Mank, 2001. p.188
  5. Mank, 2001. p.189
  6. Mank, 2001. p.190
  7. Willis, ed., Donald (1985). Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews. NY: Garland Publishing Inc. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0824087127.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. Heffernan, Kevin (2004). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968. Durham NC: Duke University Press. pp. 258–259. ISBN 0822332159.


  • Mank, Gregory William (2001). Hollywood Cauldron: Thirteen Horror Films from the Genre's Golden Age. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1112-0.
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