Murders In The Zoo Review

Murders in the Zoo
1933 | B&W | 1 hr 2 min | Horror | PG | Paramount Pictures

A. Edward Sutherland

Philip Wylie
Seton I. Miller

Charles Ruggles
Lionel Atwill
Gail Patrick

Eric Gorman returns with his wife Evelyn from a trip to the Orient collecting zoo animals, having killed a member of his expedition who happened one day to kiss Mrs. Gorman. On board ship, Evelyn meets Roger Hewitt, who falls in love with her. After delivering his animals to the zoo, Gorman plots a way to dispose of Hewitt using one of his latest specimens, then continues using the zoo's non-human residents to do his beastly work.

Paramount Pictures follow-up to  Island of Lost Souls, Murders in the Zoo deserves to be placed alongside other studio and independent horror productions of the period such as Freaks (1932), White Zombie (1932), and Mad Love (1935). It boasts stylish art deco design, atmospheric cinematography, several tense murder scenes, and above all, a standout performance by Lionel Atwill as an outrageously sadistic and callous killer.

Murders in the Zoo opens with one of the most shocking scenes I have ever seen coming from a 1930s horror flick. In French Indochina, big-game hunter Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) is seen using needle and thread on a fallen colleague – he is not tending to a wound, however; the man rises toward the camera, his hands bound behind his back and his lips stitched shut. Gorman has sentenced a man to die in the jungle because he kissed his wife. Back at camp, Gorman's wife Evelyn (Kathleen Burke) asks him if the man said where he was headed. Gorman replies, "He didn't say anything," and nonchalantly lights a cigarette. Gorman and Evelyn return to the States aboard a ship packed with a menagerie of animals that the millionaire hunter has caught for the zoo. On board, Evelyn barely disguises a relationship with Roger Hewitt (John Lodge); Gorman takes note of it. The zoo is facing financial trouble, so the curator, Professor Evans (Harry Beresford), hires Peter Yates (Charles Ruggles) as a press agent, even though Yates is an alcoholic with a fear of animals. Evans' daughter Jerry (Gail Patrick) works in the zoo's medical lab with her fiancée, biochemist, and toxicologist Dr. Woodford (Randolph Scott). At a fund-raising banquet held in the carnivore house of the zoo, Roger is seemingly bitten by an escaped poisonous snake, but Evelyn suspects that the attack was the work of her maniacally jealous husband. That image blows me away and still does today. This was the 30's this had to shock people! 

Lionel Atwill was a perfect villain for Murder in a Zoo with is cool laid back ways keeping very calm but gives off a cold icy chill. This would be Chicago native Kathleen Burke's second film following her debut as the Panter Woman in Island of Lost Souls. Even though she had 22 movie credits she stopped acting at a young age with 1939's Rascals being her last picture. The entire cast worked very well together bringing you into the cool crisp air that was Atwill's world. 

What about the zoo you ask? Well, you get some shocking scenes of Lions and Tigers fighting for real not this fake Hollywood stuff. This movie was shot before the animal cruelty act came into play. So that was really crazy to see at first and even with Svengoolie warning everybody it was odd none the less. The animals used in other area's of the story were well placed and the scope of the zoo was pretty cool. I do have one complaint about this Murders at the Zoo it tries really hard to break the tension of the movie with comedy in the form of a drunk news reporter that gets in the way. 

This movie is defiantly worth watching especially with Svengoolie as your host. So if you missed it this time around watch for it later in the year in the form of a rerun! Murder at the Zoo is a fun hour of your day with some really disturbing images for the 1930's! I have to give this movie a must see...

3 Bloody Brains


  1. Never heard of this but it sounds interesting. I will have to try to find it.

  2. The thing that makes a movie like this so hard to review is when you watch it on Svengoolie--he does such a wonderful job making the presentation so entertaining that it can, at times, make the movie seem better than it actually is. This is certainly an interesting movie though.

    1. I agree that Sven makes these much more fun than they really are but I would watch this one again as a stand alone.


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