I love superheroes. I read the comic books, watch the TV shows, and rush off to the movies. I even created my own team of superheroes, back when I was in high school. Although I usually had them face off against one of my favorite teams, usually either the Legion of Super-Heroes or X-Men, in some sort of huge misunderstanding. I spent all my time creating my heroes, I never created a really good villain. And that is a problem faced by many superheroes. Sure there are lots of great super villains out there. Magneto is one of my all time favorites but who can forget Lex Luther or the Joker or the Green Goblin? The problem is that for every really good super villain there is also a handful of really forgettable super villain duds. Who remembers Spider-Man‘s epic battle with Hypno-Hustler who can hypnotize with his guitar? How about Batman‘s arch nemesis Gorilla Boss, the mobster with the gorilla body? What about Superman‘s struggle with the Laughing Gas Bandits armed with nitrous oxide laced with kryptonite?
That lack of really good villains also plagued the popular movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s. There are some really good serial heroes, like Captain Marvel and Flash Gordon, and lots of decent serial heroes like Batman and the Three Musketeers. But for every good hero there are literally dozens of forgettable villains: the stereotypical masked and menacing foreigner, the looney professor in his lab, the mob boss with totally inept henchmen, the greedy ranch king with his cowboy cohorts. But The Crimson Ghost, a 1946 film serial from Republic Pictures, has one of the most memorable villains of all movie serials.
The Crimson Ghost is 12 chapters of cliff-hanger fun. The studio went all out for this adventure. Budgeted at $137,912 (although it ran over budget by around $25,000), The Crimson Ghost was Republic’s most expensive serial of 1946. It was directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney. Witney was considered one of the best serial directors and this was his last serial outing. Republic even took no chances with the villain’s secret identity. They hired a stuntman to wear the Crimson Ghost costume, had several different actors, including the 4th lead, do the voice, and had the villain’s real identity turn out to be … well, you’ll just have to watch episode 12 to find out. Now, if you get down to it, The Crimson Ghost is just another masked villain after just another new super weapon but where the studio really hit a home run was in the look of the villain. That face! Those hands! The Crimson Ghost is considered to be “one of the most visually striking” villains in serial history. The look is so memorable that 33 years later, horror punk band Misfits used that face on an album cover and took it as their logo and a few years after that, Iron Maiden used the Ghost in their music video for The Number of the Beast. The Crimson Ghost was re-edited and re-released as a six episode TV series in the 1950s and as a 1966 TV film titled Cyclotrode X. It was also one of only two Republic serials to be colorized in the 1990s.
Overall, The Crimson Ghost is a pretty good adventurous romp. Actors Charles Quigley and Linda Stirling are good looking and energetic as crime solving scientist Duncan and assistant Diana. Movie and TV fans will get a thrill to see Clayton Moore, better known as the heroic Lone Ranger, in a very rare villain role as the Crimson Ghost’s lead henchman Ashe. The fight scenes are full of energy and the cliff-hangers are full of the usual serial suspense. The video quality is good for the times (blurry in places, somewhat dark in places) and the sound quality is also good (I did hear some noises in places). The title music is very “blah” and a disappointment considering Republic Pictures put so much effort into other aspects of the serial. But, by far, the best part of The Crimson Ghost is the big bad villain himself. That face! Those hands! He just looks so great! But he IS spooky looking so some tender-hearted movie fans might beware. The Crimson Ghost is FREE in the Public Domain. Go to the Internet Archive and you can download or watch online all the chapters of The Crimson Ghost in one easy location or click below to watch each episode individually:
Chapter 1: Atomic Peril
Chapter 2: Thunderbolt
Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice
Chapter 4: The Laughing Skull
Chapter 5: Flaming Death
Chapter 6: Mystery of the Mountain
Chapter 7: Electrocution
Chapter 8: The Slave Collar
Chapter 9: Blazing Fury
Chapter 10: The Trap That Failed
Chapter 11: Double Murder
Chapter 12: The Invisible Trail