Murders In The Zoo (1933) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper).

October 18, 2018 | By | Reply More

A world-famous wild animal trapper travels all over the planet to find animals for his zoo. What the world does not know about him is that he is insanely jealous of his wife and plans horrific deaths for those who might want her. When he is afraid that his wife has cheated on him, he murders the people he suspects and lets the zoo animals take care of the remains.

The Paramount film ‘Murders At The Zoo’ stars will-be horror actor Lionel Atwill. Directed by ex-silent director and actor A. Edward Sutherland and written by Seton I. Miller and, Philip Wylie.

Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.

Paramount is known for its 1932 horror production ‘Island Of Lost Souls’, one of the greatest early sound horror films. It took place against a jungle-like background. What is not so well remembered is that the following year they made another grisly horror film with another tropical setting.

Lionel Atwill plays the great wild animal collector and zoologist Dr. Eric Gorman, who collects more wild and dangerous animals than his zoo can safely handle. He is world-famous for his successful safaris. What is less known about him is that he is a psychotic who is jealous of any man who could possibly steal his wife’s attentions.

In the early 1930s, Universal was making effective horror films like ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Mummy’, but the audience would know they were looking at a normal human and a thick covering of makeup. Paramount was showing real dangerous animals in the hopes that would make them seem more effective that they were real and threatening animals that did not require hours in the make-up chair. Gorman’s favourite murder weapon is the deadly black mamba snake.

As the film opens, Gorman is having vengeance on another man whom he caught kissing his wife. Gorman sews together the lips of the man in the style of a shrunken head. Then Gorman is preparing to return to the United States carrying on his shoulder a huge chip.

‘Murders At The Zoo’ is a fairly typical murder story, but for the fact that the devices used to kill are animals that really exist. It is a short B-movie at only 63 minutes. What is more, far too much of this short film is spent with the zoo’s new publicity agent, played by comedian Charlie Ruggles, who could be a funny comedian at the right time and place.

He was most definitely not in the right time and place. While people are being brutally killed in shocking scenes, Ruggles is holding up the plot while he clowns around. He manages to take shocking plot twists and make them simply irritating. Although Ruggles does nothing to move the plot along, he receives top-most billing.

A. Edward Sutherland was a director and actor in the silent days. That may account for the long, silent stretches in the film. Still, the horror and the comedy do not work well together. I give ‘Murders At The Zoo’ +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2018

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Category: Films, Horror, MEDIA

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