By the early 1930s, in response to the Great Depression and its dampening effect on ticket sales, studios introduced the concept of the double feature. For the price of one movie ticket, moviegoers could see two movies. The top half of a double bill usually featured the main attraction, the A movie, while the bottom half, the B movie, was usually a low-budget production. A double bill could also consist of two medium-budget “in-between” pictures, or even two B movies. A typical line-up for a double feature, however, would consist of a newsreel, a short and/or a serial, and a cartoon, followed by the double feature.
Although the derivation of its name is uncertain, B films were usually movies filmed on tight schedules, lasting no longer than 80 minutes in length and usually shot in black and white with lesser known actors. A and B films produced the same types of movies such as westerns, musicals, comedies, horror, suspense thrillers, and science fiction movies.
The double feature became standard practice throughout the country by 1935. Movie attendance peaked in the 1940s, with an estimated seventy-five per cent of all Americans attending one movie a week. Theater exhibitors were often compelled to change their movie lineups two or more times a week in order to keep moviegoers coming back for more. By the mid 1940s the “Big Five,” which included Loews/MGM, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Bros., and RKO all produced B films in order to capitalize on the increasing demands for more films.
After the Great Depression and up until the late 1940s, the demand for B films continued partly because of unfair studio practices known as block-booking and blind-selling. Because studios significantly controlled film distribution, independent theater exhibitors were often forced to book the less-popular B films in order to show A films. Although studios were making fewer B films after the war, the B film’s demise came in the late 1940s, with the 1948 landmark Supreme Court anti-trust ruling, United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., which ruled that Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century-Fox, Columbia Pictures, and RKO Pictures violated anti-trust laws in how films were distributed, produced, and exhibited. After this ruling, exhibitors were no longer required to show B films.
Common to many B films at the time, the script of this film was written after the title was created. In this movie directed by Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977), Betsy Connell (Frances Dee, 1910–2004) is sent to a West Indian Island to care for Jessica (Christine Gordon). She is the wife of plantation owner Paul Holland (Tom Conway, 1904–1967) who mysteriously becomes ill and cannot speak. Betsy falls in love with Paul as she continues caring for Jessica. When Betsy brings Jessica to a voodoo priest in order to help her, the local voodoo priests suspect her of being a zombie.
J. Carrol Naish (1900–1973) is the “monster maker,” a deranged man who assumes the identity of Dr. Igor Markoff after he murders him for having had a clandestine affair with his wife. Once he assumes Dr. Markoff’s identity, he punishes his wife by injecting her with a chemical that disfigures her and leads her to kill herself. The “monster maker” then falls in love with the daughter of Anthony Laurence (Ralph Morgan, 1883–1956). Laurence is a famous piano composer and his daughter reminds Markoff of his deceased wife. Markoff ends up injecting Laurence with the disfiguring serum, hoping to get Laurence’s daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for an antidote.
The movie was directed by Sam Newfield (originally spelled “Neufeld,” 1899–1964) one of the most prolific low-budget B-movie directors in Hollywood, and made at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Newfield directed mostly westerns and was well-known enough that PRC was embarrassed to print his name on many of its B-movie releases. Thus many of Newfield’s movies were released under pseudonyms such as “Peter Stewart” and “Sherman Scott.” His brother, Sigmund Neufeld (1896–1979) produced the film and was a PRC executive.
After Universal Pictures stopped making B movies and focused its efforts on releasing more prestigious feature films, Realart Pictures acquired the Universal sound film library in 1948. It re-released many of its popular B films as double features. The Phantom Monster Show was one of the first double bills to be re-released. Many of these re-released classics outperformed brand-new first-run films at the box office. The Phantom Monster Show includes two of Boris Karloff's (1887–1969) best Frankenstein films: Son Of Frankenstein and The Bride Of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi (1882–1956), Colin Clive (1900–1937), and Elsa Lanchester (1902–1986).
This 2-disc DVD includes the movies: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein.