Plot: John Ellman (Boris Karloff) spent a decade behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, but once on the outside at last, he seems poised to return to prison, once again for a crime he wasn’t responsible for. After his release, Ellman struggles because he can’t find work, so he is more receptive than normal to unusual job offers. He is given the chance to earn a payday by spying on a judge, as someone believes the man is having an affair and needs proof. Ellman wouldn’t mind seeing this particular judge given some comeuppance either, as it happens to be the same judge who convicted him, then sent him off to prison. But when the judge is killed and the body is discovered in Ellman’s car, he finds himself back on trial as an innocent man.
Entertainment Value: This is an interesting one, as it is a lean, tight thriller that allows Boris Karloff to step into the role of a zombie, but John Ellman is not the kind of zombie we’re used to. The narrative in The Walking Dead is simple and straight forward, aided by a run time of just over an hour, so this movie gets to the point and wastes little time en route to the finale. I don’t think the film feels rushed however, as it weaves the plot well and fleshes out Ellman as a person, which is about all the depth we need, since he is the central presence here. I’m sure we’ve all seen this kind of “wrongly accused” story time and again, but The Walking Dead takes a fresh turn once Ellman has crossed over the other side. This is not the usual take on zombies and I appreciated how the movie played out in the final act, as well as how it treated Ellman on the whole. If you want scares, you might be let down here, but for fans of Karloff and tight, effective old school thrillers, I think this is worth a look.
I have to think a lot of those interested in The Walking Dead will be drawn in by Boris Karloff and I think those people will be quite satisfied here. Karloff was often thrust into the same few roles over and over again, which he was always competent within, but it is nice to see him given a fresh option in this one. I admit, Karloff as a zombie doesn’t sound like a shift in character for him, but it is how he is able to play the part of Ellman that makes it stand out. He is a warm, sincere character before the transformation, a sympathetic figure manipulated into false imprisonment not one, but twice. I appreciated seeing Karloff in such a warm role, as I am so used to him in darker parts, but he really delivers a rock solid effort. Even once he turns into a zombie, Karloff is able to subvert expectations and how the villains are dealt with is almost indirect, as opposed to horror related attacks. I really enjoyed Karloff’s work in The Walking Dead and I think his presence is what makes the movie worth seeking out. The cast also includes Ricardo Cortez, Marguerite Churchill, and Edmund Gwen.
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