Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mad Monster (1942)

Director: Sam Newfield                                   Writer: Fred Myton
Film Score: David Chudnow                            Cinematography: Jack Greenhalgh
Starring: George Zucco, Johnny Downs, Anne Nagel and Glenn Strange

After the success of Universal’s The Wolf Man, no company worked faster to copy the film than Sigmund Neufeld’s unit for PRC. B-movie writer Fred Myton was put to work on a wolf-transformation screenplay while special effects man Gene Stone was given the task to re-create the transformation scenes from the Lon Chaney Jr. film. Rather than copy the plot of The Wolf Man screenplay, however, Myton decided to replicate Man Made Monster from the year before. That film also starred Chaney as well as Anne Nagel, and George Zucco was scheduled as the star for their low-budget rip-off. The result was The Mad Monster, distributed by poverty row PRC and hitting the screens a mere five months after Universal revived their horror product with their new monster. Zucco plays his standard, elegant, mad doctor, while Strange does Chaney’s Lennie from Of Mice and Men a year before he would replace Chaney as the Frankenstein monster in the last three Universal monster conclaves.

The film opens with a wolf howling at the moon. George Zucco has taken the blood of another wolf and transfused it into Glenn Strange and a few moments later he turns into a snarling wolf. At this point Zucco has an imaginary discussion with the professors who ran him out of the science department at the college and he vows revenge, that each will die at the hands of his creation. Meanwhile Zucco’s daughter, Anne Nagel, is tired of being cooped up in the country house while her father performs his experiments, but she does develop a simplistic relationship with Strange. When Zucco sets his monster loose the first night and it kills a village child, Strange roams the swamp in his overalls looking confused rather than out for blood, with the sound effects growling independently of his facial movements. The only way to reverse the effects is for Zucco to inject him with the antidote. But, as all things do in the world of horror, Strange begins to transform on his own which causes all kinds of trouble for Zucco.

Here’s the thing. This is certainly a grade-Z movie, there’s no disputing that . . . and yet it’s not. It may have a lowly 3.5 on IMDb, but it is not a bad film. Glenn Strange may be doing the worst Lennie impression ever, but for some reason it’s okay. There’s some bad acting, sure, but the principals are all pretty good. Zucco is dependable as always, and Anne Nagel is all right as well. While reporter Johnny Downs is a little too gee-wiz Johnny Olson, the old professors are actually quite credible. It all comes down to expectations and, in that respect, the film is surprisingly interesting and skillfully done with the paucity of funds at their disposal. It’s not a studio production, and anyone expecting that will undoubtedly be disappointed. But for fans of Universal’s monster pictures, The Mad Monster is definitely an interesting pastiche of Chaney Junior’s first two horror films for the studio

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