“There is power enough to seize or destroy the world and only I… I know how to release and control it.”
Dr. Alex Zorka (Bela Lugosi) is a mad scientist. Zorka has managed to get a hold of a piece of meteorite and has extracted a new and powerful element from it. With this new element Zorka has been doing bizarre experiments in his secret laboratory, with the aid of his assistant Monk (Jack C. Smith). Some of his strange inventions include an invisibility belt, spider-like robots that can either destroy people or put them into a trance and a really creepy looking eight foot tall robot (Edwin Bud Wolff) that does his bidding. His goal is to be able to put an entire Army into suspended animation.
Zorka’s wife Ann (Dora Clement) is concerned for her husband’s well being as well as worried about what he may do. She calls Zorka’s former colleague Dr. Fred Mallory (Edwin Stanley). Mallory contacts the Department of Military Intelligence. Captain Bob West (Robert Kent) is assigned to the case. Ann and Mallory want Zorka to give his discoveries to the government. Zorka refuses. Enemy agents are also after Zorka and his discoveries. Whether they buy it or steal it doesn’t matter to them.
Needing to go into hiding Zorka fakes his death. When the authorities want his widow to identify the body Zorka plans on putting her in a trance and reviving her later once he has her away from the police. When his plan goes awry his wife dies in a plane crash. Not taking responsibility for anything Dr. Zorka blames everyone else for his wife’s death. Zorka goes off the deep end and decides to rule the world. Zorka’s assistant Monk is more of a hindrance than a help in that area.
“The Phantom Creeps” was released in 1939 and was directed by Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind. It is Universal’s 112th serial and its 44th sound serial. Unfortunately a lot of the serial is a game of button, button who’s got the button or at the very least a really long game of tag. For a deadly piece of rock Zorka’s meteorite seems to change hands a lot. Monk tries to steal it but the G-men get it. Then Zorka steals it back. Then the enemy agents get it. A lot of the serial is padding where the element, now almost a McGuffin, is passed around like a bag of chips.
Still there were moments that were interesting. A nice train derailment, two fist fights in different places at the same time, the invisibility belt, the giant robot, bombing a ship. The most interesting chapters were chapter one and chapter twelve. The main thing that makes this serial fun is Bela. He makes a great mad scientist.
Lugosi did five serials, the last one being “The Phantom Creeps”.
Stock footage from Universal's 1936 "The Invisible Ray" is used to explain where the meteorite came from. Similarly stock footage of an explosion and avalanche in Chapter 11 comes from Universal's 1934 serial, "The Vanishing Shadow." When Dr. Zorka drops the bomb on the dirigible, the stock footage is of the actual news footage of the explosion and crash of the Hindenburg. Like most serials sets and stock footage from other movies and serials are ever present.
Chapter Titles: 1. The Menacing Power 2. Death Stalks the Highways 3. Crashing Towers 4. Invisible Terror 5. Thundering Rails 6. The Iron Monster 7. The Menacing Mist 8. Trapped in the Flames 9. Speeding Doom 10. Phantom Footprints 11. The Blast 12. To Destroy the World