The long-running radio serial Inner Sanctum Mystery (1941 – 1952) inspired six Universal films, all starring Lon Chaney Jr. and featuring eerie stories of supernatural terror. In the best one, Weird Woman, Chaney is Norman Reed, an anthropology professor married to the exotic island native he met while conducting field research for a book on voodoo religions. Austrian émigré Reginald Le Borg lends an ironically anthropological eye to his cutting study of a small-minded American town destabilized by the incestuous rivalries and unspoken xenophobia that ignite when Reed unexpectedly returns from his expedition with his comely bride in tow. Remaining true to its radio origins, Weird Woman makes effective use of voiceovers to place the viewer squarely in the troubled mindset of Reed as he struggles to understand the many weird women who whisper suggestively into his ear, including the always uncanny Val Lewton regular Elizabeth Russell as a wrathfully vengeful wife desperate to blame someone for her husband’s suicide.
Before his best-known film noir and his controversially brief turn as one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, Edward Dmytryk was an editor-turned-director steadily working his way across different studios’ B-units. Dmytryk’s journeyman years included a stint at Universal, where he helmed this eccentric sci-fi horror starring John Carradine as an unethical endocrinologist performing dangerous experiments upon a gorilla stolen from the circus, using vital organs removed from female patients to transform the beast into a beautiful woman whose strange predilection towards wild animals ultimately reveals her true identity. Played by a Native American or African American actress whose origins remain uncertain but who was claimed in studio ballyhoo to be “The Venezuelan Volcano” best known by the stage name of Acquanetta, the gorilla-woman is as uncomfortably blatant an emblem of racist fears as King Kong years earlier. Intertwining the doctor’s increasingly dangerous experiments with the perilous work of the animal trainer taming vicious lions, Captive Wild Woman channeled the fad for sexualized jungle exotica into a surprise box office hit.