Tuesday, October 26

The Mad Monster

Mad scientists were all the rage in early science fiction films. There are more mad scientist pictures  throughout the 30s and early 40s than you can shake a test tube at. Universal Studios released their own fair share of them during this time, most notably the Frankenstein series of films, as well as other mad science features like The Invisible Ray and Man Made Monster. In 1941 Universal also released a very different type of monster movie that would become a smash hit... The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr. The movie in this week's review is from a rival studio, one of the lesser ones... PRC... and it was their own low-budget attempt to capitalize on both of these genres - mad science and werewolves - mashed into one picture, with THE MAD MONSTER.


George Zucco stars as Dr. Lorenzo Cameron, a scientist with a chip on his shoulder towards a group of colleagues and fellow scientists who scoffed at his work, called him mad, had him barred from the University where he was employed, and discredited him in the press. 

He was working on controversial theories of science and evolution at the time and has since continued these studies, using his simple-minded handyman Petro (Glenn Strange) as a test subject. He gives Petro injections of a catalytic agent derived from wolf blood that turns him into a snarling werewolf. He then invites each of his nemesis to his lab for a firsthand – and deadly – look at his “mad” theories in practice. Petro has no recollections of his transformations afterward, or the monstrous deeds he performs while in his animalistic state.

Anne Nagel plays the good doctor's daughter, Lenora, oblivious to his work and mad scheme. Johnny Downs plays her boyfriend reporter who suspects her father’s involvement in the unusual string of deaths of scientists.


The Mad Monster was directed by Sam Neufeld in 1942 for PRC (Producer's Releasing Corporation). This black and white poverty row chiller feels very low-budget across the board, and a bit dated, mostly due to the clunky soundtrack, which is very much a product of its time. Despite this, the film is fairly entertaining throughout, mostly due to the quick runtime (77 minutes). 

The makeup for the werewolf in this one consists mainly of wig, beard, and fangs – but it's still effective, and his costume is unique, resembling a hillbilly werewolf in overalls and floppy work hat. Glenn Strange’s size makes him an imposing, hulking brute of a beast – which of course made him perfect to play the Frankenstein Monster two years later, in 1944’s House of Frankenstein.


The Mad Monster
is very similar to another mad science film that came out one year prior (1941) - Man Made Monster. In both a somewhat slow, simple man is taken advantage of by a mad scientist, used as a guinea pig, and turned into a monster with the ultimate goal of creating an army of super-powered soldiers. Anne Nagel stared in both films as the daughter of a scientist and has a reporter boyfriend in each as well. 

This film also plays very much like a mash-up of two Lon Chaney Jr. films: the aforementioned Man Made Monster and The Wolf Man, which was also released in 1941. To top it all off Glenn Strange seems to be very much channeling Chaney’s performance as Lennie from Of Mice and Men (1939) in this role as well. There's no doubt in my mind one of the producers of this film was a Chaney fan!


Director Sam Newfeld would go on to direct four films starring good ole George Zucco, all science fiction schlockers - The Mad Monster (1942), Dead Men Walk (1943), The Black Raven (1943), The Flying Serpent (1946). 

Speaking of Zucco, the role of a mad scientist seems custom-made for him. He brings an intensity to his performance that is perfect for the part. The sets and backgrounds in this one feature the standard mad science trappings of bubbling beakers and fluid-filled flasks, housed within the castle-like stone walls of his laboratory. What kind of mad doctor would he be otherwise?

The Mad Monster was re-released in theaters in 1945 on a double-bill with The Devil Bat starring Bela Lugosi. These films pair perfectly as each features a mad scientist taking revenge on their former colleagues through elaborate mad schemes. That would have been a great double-feature, especially in drive-in theaters - hell, I'd love to see that double-feature at a drive-in even today!

3 out of 5 skulls




Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 26

 Keeping that 2021 Halloween countdown going with a look at THE CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN.

Monday, October 25

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 25

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween countdown going with a look at The Thing with Two Heads.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 24

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween countdown rolling with a look at three TV comedy skits starring Vincent Price as a mad scientist.


Full skits below:


Danny Kaye Show - 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL4tWtqqBM4


Red Skelton Hour

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuiIGEZk354&t=324s


Carol Burnett Show

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yLBqPbi3Xc&t=326s

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 23

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with this ape wild flick, KONGA.

 

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 22

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at the scifi classic The Colossus of New York


Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 21

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at The Werewolf.

 

Monsters Gone Wild - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 20

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown rolling with a look at this Bela Lugosi classic - The Devil Bat!

 

Monsters Gone Wild - 2021 Halloween Countdown Day 19

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at the mad science classic THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE.

 

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 18

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween Countdown going with a look at the 1959 film The Alligator People.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 17

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween countdown rolling with a look at the 1931 Universal classic, Frankenstein.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 16

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at The Freakmaker, aka The Mutations.

 

Monsters Gone WILD 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 15

 Dr. Gangrene Keeps the Monsters Gone Wild Halloween Countdown going with a look at one of the greatest Frankenstein films of all time, Curse of Frankenstein. 

 

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween countdown - Day 14

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween marathon going with a look at THE FLY series of films... it's quite the buzz around town!

 

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 13

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween Mad Science countdown going with a look at the episode of Karloff's THRILLER titled The Incredible Dr. Markesan.



Monsters Gone Wild - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 12

 Doc Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at the 1957 sc-ifi flick I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.


Monsters Gone WILD! 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 11

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown going with a look at MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS.

Monsters Gone WILD! - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 10

 Doc Gangrene keeps the Halloween fun rolling with a look at the 1942 flick THE MAD MONSTER.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 9

 Dr. Gangrene's 2021 Halloween countdown continues with a look at this giant creepy-crawlie, Tarantula!


Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 8

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween countdown rolling with a look at the Frankenstein franchise from Hammer Studios.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 7

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the 2021 Halloween countdown rolling with a look at the 1956 Universal Gillman movie, The Creature Walks Among Us.

Monsters Gone WILD - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 6

 Dr. Gangrene keeps the Halloween countdown for 2021 rolling on Day 6 with a look at the 1967 film Body of the Prey.



Monsters Gone Wild - 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 5

 Dr. Gangrene continues the 2021 Halloween countdown with a look at the Blacksploitation schlocker BLACKENSTEIN!



Monsters Gone WILD! 2021 Halloween Countdown - Day 4

 The 2021 Halloween countdown continues with a look at the 1970 scifi film SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, featuring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing.



Wednesday, October 20

HALLOWEEN KILLS - Trick or Treat?

    I finally watched HALLOWEEN KILLS this weekend. I initially planned to see it in the theater, but my schedule didn't allow it, so I finally relented and signed up for Peacock streaming and watched it at my house. I have mixed feelings about seeing movies this way. I'm a big supporter of theaters, but the past several times I've gone to see a movie anywhere outside of the Belcourt (Nashville's arthouse theater that doesn't allow talking or disruptions of any kind) the experience has been HORRIBLE. Audiences are so badly behaved nowadays that it ruins the entire experience. But I'll save my old man rant for another day - today I'm here to talk about Halloween Kills.

Spooky season is here and Michael Myers is back, stalking his way into theaters once again. I had heard there were a lot of folks upset about this latest installment in the franchise, and it was people posting spoilers online that finally made me go ahead and watch it at home. Admittedly, I wasn't the biggest fan of this team's first effort, HALLOWEEN 2018. I didn't hate it, I just kind of had a problem accepting the premise of it, to be honest. You see, there's just an inherent arrogance built into any filmmaker who takes an established franchise like Halloween and throws out all the sequels, proclaiming them trash and that theirs will be the only "real" storyline going forward. ESPECIALLY if they're not including one of the very best films in the franchise, HALLOWEEN 2, which I'm a big fan of. It's the second-best "Michael" movie, after the Carpenter original. It picks up immediately following the first film, builds on the events of that film, and tells a compelling story. It was also written by the man himself, John Carpenter, in conjunction with his creative partner Debra Hill, in 1981, just 3 years after the original, when the story was still fresh.

The new creative team (David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum) have gone on record saying the main reason for ignoring part 2 (and all subsequent films) is so Michael and Laurie would no longer be siblings. Not sure why they chose to discard this particular bit of lore, as it's one of the most well-known parts of the story. But they did, and it was a bit hard for me to accept that in the 2018 film. ESPECIALLY since that exact thing had already been done once, with HALLOWEEN H20 (1998). That one also chose to discard all the sequels, setting its story directly following the original 1978 HALLOWEEN. And here's the kicker - it did it better than the 2018 version. 

In 2018 the biggest problem was the way they wrote Laurie. They were trying to portray her as a strong woman character, but instead, she comes across as a fearful loon, afraid of her own shadow and hiding in the woods with her guns. You know what's strong? Learning to cope with trauma, beating your fears, and being able to live a semi-normal life after the fact, even becoming headmistress of a school and raising a son. Hiding in fear isn't strong, conquering that shit and living life takes real strength!

So I found the 2018 version less than compelling for a number of reasons. BUT, I decided to put that aside and give the latest film, Halloween Kills, a fair chance - even if it is a terrible title. And it is. I mean... Halloween Kills? That's the best they could come up with? About as bad as FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, another really lame title for a spinoff property.

So how was this latest horror-holiday offering?

After seeing it, I'm really not sure what people were all that upset about online. This one takes place immediately following Halloween 2018 (in much the same way that Halloween 2 followed the original film). A large portion of it takes place in the Haddonfield hospital (again, much like Halloween 2). Halloween Kills was better than 2018 however, largely because Laurie is out of her cliché Sarah Connor mode this time around. She is injured in the hospital from wounds received in the prior film, and confined to her hospital bed for the most part. Her character is much better written this time around, showing some warmth and compassion with an old friend in her hospital room, as well as genuine concern for her family.

This one does get a bit convoluted story-wise by introducing a whole bunch of characters with ties to the 78 film. Probably a few too many, at least I had trouble keeping up with all of them. But that aside, the story was engaging and it felt more like a proper Halloween film this time around. There was even a nod to HALLOWEEN 3 in it, but I'm honestly not sure if it's supposed to be an homage or a middle finger to that oddball outlier of the franchise. But people can watch and decide for themselves, I suppose. Probably a better question for the filmmakers.

There's also an angry mob portion of the film that - you know, now that I think about it, a lot of the film is taken up with this storyline. Maybe that's what people disliked so intently. I was fine with it though, as it's at least something new that we haven't seen in any of the Halloween films before. I think it's good for the franchise to go somewhere new. That's what a sequel should do, not just remake the same film time and again. 

There was a portion toward the end where Michael confronts the mob that kind of bugged me, cinematography/editing-wise, with them shooting it in slow motion, in kind of isolated shots highlighting specific kills, instead of letting us really see the action play out in real-time and revel in it. Makes me think of that amazing ending in CABIN IN THE WOODS when all hell breaks loose and the camera stays right on the action, pulled back so you can really see it in all its glory. I'd have preferred that here, but they got artsy with it, which is okay,I guess, it just lost some of its power that way, which is the complete opposite of what they were going for, I think.

So... is Halloween Kills a trick or a treat? 

Overall, those gripes aside, I found this to be a bit of a mixed bag. The film is enjoyable, much more so than Halloween 2018, and I will probably re-watch it sometime, which I'm not sure I'd say for the 2018 version. I do wish the trailer for Halloween Kills hadn't given away so much of the story ahead of time. For the next chapter, the supposedly final one in this team's run (I think) titled HALLOWEEN ENDS (Really? Again, best you can come up with?), please, PLEASE - use some restraint on the trailer. Really. You don't have to give away major chunks of plot in the trailer. Study some classic trailers. There's an art to effectively teasing the action and intriguing audiences yet not giving away the story. You can do it, I have faith in you. 



3 out of 5 skulls


Sunday, October 3

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