Review of “The Undead” (1957)

from YouTube: the warm-up dancer for the witches’ sabbath in the graveyard.

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering. The pizza was good. We watched it with Svengoolie.


We first see Satan (Richard Devon), a trident between him and the camera, dressed like… Robin Hood. His warning to the audience ends with the trademark evil laugh.

The next scene is that of a shapely woman (Pamela Duncan) emerging from the fog. She pauses by a lamppost and takes out a cigarette. A hand in a black glove offers her a lighter. She accepts. The hand then grips her wrist. She smiles up at the man holding her, later revealed to be Quintus Ratcliff (Val Dufour.). (Huh? Oh, she’s used to this rough treatment because it means she’ll get paid. She’s a prostitute. SHEESH, guys, not judgmental at all there.). The two resort not to an hourly-rate hotel but to the American Institute of Psychical Research.

Here, the man who conducted the working girl to the Institute begins an argument with an old professor of his, Professor Ulbrecht Olinger (Maurice Manson), who failed him. His idea is to hypnotize the woman, who uses the, ahem, professional name Diana Love, and see if he can’t send her back to a past life. He’s seen it done in Tibet, where he’s spent the past seven years.

“Where will you find a subject weak and impressionable enough to arrive at the required depths of trance?” the Professor asks.

Oh, this lovely young thing going through the pockets of your jacket in the other room while you’re not paying attention and judging her lack of intellectual awareness?

Despite the Professor’s better judgment, the hypnosis proceeds. Diana soon finds herself in chains, in some medieval dungeon in France, accused of witchcraft. She’ll be beheaded in the morning.


Despite the title, the movie has nothing to do with zombies, vampires, or Nosferatu.

The first thing that grated on my nerves was the dialogue. EE GADS. Who wrote this bilge?

“Barely under the surface. No telling how many fathoms deeper we’ll have to sink into that murky mind of hers.”

It only gets better when the viewer travels back in time, with the uses of “thee” and “thou.”

After the witches’ Sabbath (check out the nifty little dance number above), during which people sell their souls to Satan for fill-in-the-blank, Livia (Allison Hayes), the naughty witch, brings our hero, Pendragon (Richard Garland), to sign away his soul in exchange for freeing his beloved Helene (the past life of Diana Love) from the Tower of Death. He doesn’t know that she has escaped.

Quintus has traveled back in time and somehow mastered medieval French. Yeah, yeah, picky, picky. He watches as Pendragon gets ready to sign his name and sell his soul but breaks up the ceremony, asking, “Would you sign without a try at bargaining?”

Satan is not in a bargaining mood, but he recognizes Quintus:

Satan: I know you.
Quintus: You do, devil, Satan? I hardly think so.
Satan: So Quintus. You have slipped at last the bonds of time. I knew you’d dabble in my art one day.
Quintus: Your interest in my art flatter me, sir.

Finally, Quintus tells Pendragon, “If I promise you that she will go free, will you come with me now and forget the book?”

Pendragon responds: “Yes, I’ll come. But if your words are false, I must return and sign.”

One of the few enjoyable exchanges is between two “real” witches:

Livia: No one has ever called me a witch!
Meg Maud (Dorothy Neumann): And lived to see another witch?

Part of the inspiration for the storyline was a series of news articles and later a book, The Search for Bridey Murphy, in which a Colorado housewife appeared to recall under hypnosis a past life as a 19th-century Irishwoman.

I could not buy into this one. With Satan looking like a wayward member of the band of merry men sporting a prop trident rather than a pitchfork, I couldn’t quake in fear at his evilness. I might pass him a mini-Snickers bar if he rang the doorbell on Halloween, however.

The film provides some gruesome/silly comic relief in the person of Smolkin the gravedigger (Mel Welles), who has a thing for nursery rhymes adjusted for his line of work:

Merry, Merry, more to bury,
how does my garden grow?
 With marble stones, and ankle bones,
and relatives all in a row!

Granted, this is from 1957, so there has to be some moral to the story, especially one involving a working girl. I wish they’d run the dialogue through the typewriter a couple of more times and given the moral lecture a rest.

Title: The Undead (1957)

Directed by
Roger Corman

Writing Credits
Charles B. Griffith…(screenplay) (as Charles Griffith) and
Mark Hanna…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification

Pamela Duncan…Diana Love/Helene
Richard Garland…Pendragon
Allison Hayes…Livia—a Witch
Val Dufour…Quintus Ratcliff
Mel Welles…Smolkin—the gravedigger

Released: March 15, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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