Sunday, June 13, 2010

“How come I have to have these straps on, Doc?”

Time for more schlock! Its 1942’s The Mad Monster, which features both a Mad and a Monster. That's really about the only preface it needs/deserves.

So, there’s this mad scientist who’s moved out to an estate in the swamp because his colleagues in Science have all laughed him out of academia. But he’ll show them! He’ll inject the blood of a wolf into a man to create a man-wolf to kill his enemies and prove that scientifically created army of man-wolves is exactly what the allies need to beat the Nazis. It’s the kind of movie that ends with a building burning down and a man and a woman barely escaping it so they can hug each other as they watch it burn in the final frame.

Dr. Lorenzo Cameron: George Zucco (one of the solid horror movie actors of the 30s & 40s) seems to be slumming here for a paycheck. Slumming he may be, but that doesn’t stop him from chewing the hell out of the scenery as a scientist who is quite obviously insane. How insane? Well, aside from injecting his servant/groundskeeper with wolf blood, he starts off the movie monologuing to imaginary versions of his enemies in the scientific community for a good five minutes, so yeah, I’d say he’s cracked. Still, as far as everything goes, he’s the badass of the film.

Lenora Cameron: Anne Nagel is Cameron’s loving and incredibly oblivious daughter. She doesn’t pick up on the fact that he’s a loon. She just want him to be the best darn scientist/dad in the world.

Petro: Glenn Strange (the guy underneath the makeup for the latter day Universal Frankenstein films and a staple of Westerns like Gunsmoke) isn’t exactly given a chance to branch out into complex speaking roles. Petro’s just a big dumb, almost likely mentally challenged lug who’s pretty gentle and takes a liking to Lenora. When he’s not a werewolf. When he is a werewolf, he growls a lot and lumbers around somewhat menacingly and occasionally kills people. Pitiable more than scary.

Tom Gregory: Johnny Downs plays Lenora’s boyfriend, a plucky, justice-minded reporter, because that is exactly the kind of movie this is. Bland and boring, he’s more or less the “hero” of the movie though he doesn’t really do much.

Directed by Sam Newfield (who apparently did a lot of Westerns in his long career), the movie has occasional moments of watchability, but by and large it’s a clumsily plotted, not very well edited lump of celluloid that doesn’t really go anywhere. Its not terribly shot, which is something, and the transformation sequence that Petro undergoes isn’t any worse than any other ‘40’s werewolf transformation. Unfortunately, the movie blows that wad early and every transformation afterwards is much less interesting. Also, it’s a bit hard to take seriously a werewolf that walks around in denim overalls. I’m just saying.

Written by Fred Myton (who apparently ALSO worked on a lot of Westerns in his career), there’s not a whole lot of new stuff that gets brought to the table. Let’s see, there’s a little girl killed off camera by the monster, but that was already done in Frankenstein. There’s a creepy old mansion in the swamp-- no, seen that already too in Son of Dracula. A werewolf created by injecting Science into them instead of a curse, I guess that’s something, but really, kind of a moot point when push comes to snarl. Ok, I got something. I really dig the scientist’s plan to use his Science-made werewolves to fight the Axis Powers in World War II. Its kind of a throwaway line and nothing ever comes of it, but that’s the kind of crazyness that I want to see in a B movie.

The score by David Chudnow is very bombastic and fully committed to the movie. I’ll give it that.

The Mad Monster is pretty boring when George Zucco isn’t on screen, unless you like people wandering around a swamp set. Glenn Strange’s Petro is a little sympathetic, but doesn’t get a whole lot to angst about like Larry Talbin of the Wolfman movies does. And here’s where the movie really fails: its just boring. The Crawling Eye & The Robot Vs The Aztec Mummy were both bad films, but there’s a kind of insanity to them that gives them some charm.

Even the trailer narrator doesn't seem interested.

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