The Phantom Creeps
Directed by Ford Beebe
Saul A. Goodkind
Produced by Henry MacRae (associate producer)
Written by Willis Cooper (original story)
George Plympton
Basil Dickey
Mildred Barish (screenplay)
Starring Béla Lugosi
Dorothy Arnold
Robert Kent
Music by Charles Previn
Cinematography Jerry Ash
William Sickner
Editing by Irving Birnbaum
Joseph Gluck
Alvin Todd
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) United States 7 January 1939
Running time 12 chapters (265 min)
Country US flag 49 stars.svg.png [[|]]
Language English

The Phantom Creeps is a 1939 serial about a mad scientist who attempts to rule the world by creating various elaborate inventions. In a dramatic fashion, foreign agents and G-Men try to seize the inventions for themselves.

It was the 112th serial released by Universal Pictures and the 44th to have sound. The serial stars Béla Lugosi as the villainous Doctor Zorka with Dorothy Arnold and Robert Kent.

It was adapted in DC's Movie Comics #6, cover date September-October 1939, the final issue of that title.[1]

The first three episodes of The Phantom Creeps were lampooned during the second season of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Dr. Zorka has invented many strange weapons of warfare, including a devisualizer belt which renders him invisible; a terrifying, eight-foot tall robot (played by stuntman Edwin "Bud" Wolfe), and he also has a deadly meteorite fragment from which he extracts an element which can induce suspended animation in an entire army. Foreign spies, operating under the guise of a foreign language school, are trying to buy or mostly steal the meteorite element, while his former partner, Dr. Fred Mallory, miffed that Zorka will not turn his inventions over to the U.S. Government, blows the whistle on him to Captain Bob West of the Military Intelligence Department. Tired of answering the door and saying no to the spies and the government, Zorka moves his lab and when his beloved wife is killed, Zorka, puttering around for his own amusement up to this point, gets hacked off as only Lugosi can, swears eternal vengeance against society, and decides to use his inventions to make himself world dictator. And would have if not for his assistant Monk, an escaped convict virtually enslaved by Zorka, who is cowardly, treacherous and totally incompetent, and whose accidental or deliberate interference with Zorka's efforts repeatedly frustrates his master's grand schemes.



The serial contains some similarities with the earlier serial The Vanishing Shadow, such as an invisibility belt and a remote-control robot. Stock footage was used from The Invisible Ray (look closely and you'll see Boris Karloff), including scenes of Dr Zorka finding the meteorite in Africa. The music came from the Frankenstein films. The Phantom Creeps' car chase was itself used as stock footage in later serials.[3] Newsreel shots of the Hindenburg disaster were used as part of Dr Zorka's final spree of destruction after his robot, which is supposed to destroy the human race, is stopped by a single shot seconds after being unleashed.[2]

Universal tried to improve serials by eliminating the written foreword at the start of each chapter. This led to The Phantom Creeps being the first serial in which the studio used vertically scrolling text as the foreword.[4]


The innovation of the scrolling text version of the synopsis at the beginning of each chapter was used for the Star Wars films as the "Star Wars opening crawl".

Chapter titlesEdit

  1. The Menacing Power
  2. Death Stalks the Highways
  3. Crashing Towers
  4. Invisible Terror
  5. Thundering Rails
  6. The Iron Monster
  7. The Menacing Mist
  8. Trapped in the Flames
  9. Speeding Doom
  10. Phantom Footprints
  11. The Blast
  12. To Destroy the World


See alsoEdit


  1. Kohl, Leonard J (May/June 1996). "The Sinister Serials of Bela Lugosi". Filmfax magazine: pp. 44. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut. "14. The Villains "All Bad, All Mad"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 349–350. ISBN 9780713000979. 
  3. Stedman, Raymond William. "3. At This Theater Next Week". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780806109275. 
  4. Stedman, Raymond William. "5. Shazam and Good-by". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 138. ISBN 9780806109275. 
  5. Cline, William C.. "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc.. p. 225. ISBN 078640471X. 

External linksEdit

Preceded by
The Oregon Trail (1939)
Universal Serial
The Phantom Creeps (1939)
Succeeded by
The Green Hornet (1940)