Category Archives: Horror: Mad Science

Movies about Killer Scientists. All in the name of PROGRESS!

Frankenstein

Opening Thoughts

Date:
1931
Stars:
Colin Clive

Mae Clarke

John Boles
Writers:
Garrett Fort

Francis Edward Faragoh

Director:
James Whale
WRC Score:
3.5/4

(-_-)b
Note: 
First posted in a
different form on
March 3, 2012

The film that made Boris Karloff and destroyed Bela Lugosi. Or at least that’s the way the Horror film historians would have it. Whether this is the case might not be as clear-cut as they might think.

Intended to be his follow-up to Dracula (1930), Lugosi was less than thrilled with the idea of playing the monstrous creature.  “I was a star in my country” he reportedly said, “and I will not be a scarecrow over here!” And a heart-throb at that. Had he had his druthers, the character certainly would have had a different portrayal to it than Karloff’s, and not necessarily as successful a one at that.

Whatever he thought or intended with the role, others factors might have kept him off the project in any case. Before camera rolled, Universal Pictures fired intended director, Robert Florey, and gave the reigns to James Whale. Let me underscore that a little. Whale had the option of doing any picture he wanted, and he chose Frankenstein. He had full control of casting, too. Odds are good, I think, that Lugosi’s number would have been up even if he loved the role.

What might have been: A poster advertising Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein’s Monster

All that said, even if things had run smoothly, there’s no real indication this film would have been much of a career highlight. According to the Wikipedia article on the movie (where I lifted the above quote), Florey had a different interpretation of the story, to say the least. In it, the monster “was simply a killing machine without a touch of human interest or pathos.” As far a cry from source author Mary Shelly‘s literate creation as… well, as any movie based on her novel, including this one.

Would that have connected with audiences the same way this film did and does? Any thoughts on the matter only amount to so much guess-work. It’s hard to imagine, though that the peculiar alchemy of film making present in this Frankenstein could have been bested. Mainly because it really hasn’t been equaled in any production that come since.

But come. Leave the modern-day behind and let us drift back nearly a hundred years. There are funerals to attend, graves to rob, the dead to rise and a wedding to curtail. A word of warning before we begin. Classic or not, I will have my fun with the film as this review goes on.  I just can’t go after the “bad” movies without having a go at the “good” ones.

Besides,  I try to entertain as best I can, and dry reads simply don’t do it.

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The Ape Man

Opening Thoughts

Date:
1943
Stars:

Bela Lugosi

Louise Currie

Wallace (ugh) Ford
Writer:
Barney A. Sarecky
Director:
William Beaudine
WRC Score:
1.5/4
Note: 
First posted in a
different form on
October 15, 2011

Not a lot to say here. I watching this movie for the express purposes of watching the sequel, Return of the Ape Man.

Which was dumb of me, as Return of the Ape Man is as much a sequel to The Ape Man as The Return of Dr. X is to Dr. X. Or Kingu Kongu no gyakushû/King Kong Escapes is to King Kong.

Now that I’ve listed at least four flicks more worth your time than this one, let’s go to the next page to see if Lugosi leaves any furniture left or if he chews through them all before the ad for war bonds pops up.

Gritos en la noche

Also Called:
The Awful Dr. Orloff

Date:
1962
Stars:
Conrado San Martín

Diana Lorys

Howard Vernon
Writer:
Jesús Franco
Director:
Jesús Franco
WRC Score:
2.5/4
Note: 
First posted in a
different form on
May 28, 2013

Gritos en la noche (also known as The Awful Dr. Orloff) tells the familiar tale of a mad doctor stalking the streets for women to carve into, abetted by his faithful blind servant.  You know.  The “Mad Doctor Waltz”.

Or maybe it’s a polka.

Whichever.

Except for a few sour notes strummed by Writer/Director Jesús Franco, there’s nothing in Gritos en la noche that stirs the blood for or against.  Though a couple of nude scenes seem tacked on to add “spice” to the proceedings, one of which borderlines on rape.  But even with that ever so classy moment, it doesn’t do much to be more than an average Horror flick (1 point).

I can’t say I was that thrilled with it, but moving towards it’s rather abrupt climax I found myself grooving to it more and more.  By the time it finished, I rather liked it (1.5 points) and probably would watch it a chance, if nothing better were on.

But that’s my bad taste in music… er… film for you.

Overall Score: 2.5 total point out of a possible 4

Frankenstein (1931)

Date:
1931
Stars:
Colin Clive

Mae Clarke

John Boles
Writers:
Garrett Fort

Francis Edward Faragoh

Director:
James Whale
WRC Score:
3.5/4

(-_-)b
Note: 
First posted in a
different form on
March 3, 2012

I’m going to be kind and assume you actually know who Frankenstein and what his deal is.  In this particular case, he’s a young student determined to prove his theories correct.  He succeeds, only to have things turn toward tragedy.

Beyond that?  Well, this is mandatory viewing if you have any interest in the history of Horror Films, so no matter what I say it goes RECOMMENDED.

That said, is it still any good? Or has the advancement of film taking all the bite out of this bad boy?

While I don’t feel Frankenstein works any more as a straight ahead Horror film, as a Speculative Flick it’s near perfect, with only a few minor issues to hold it back. The acting is either a bit hammy or a bit stiff, depending on whose doing it, but considering the time period it is most excellent. Unless you have a thing against old films, you should find a lot to enjoy here (2 points).

On a personal note, while I didn’t fall in love with Frankenstein , I got more than I expected on rewatch. My memories of it being as dull as dirt were, quite thankfully, wrong. I find myself liking it quite a bit, and am kicking myself for putting off watching it for so long. (1.5 points)

Overall Score: 3.5 (+) total point out of a possible 4

The Neanderthal Man

Opening Thoughts

Date:
1953
Stars:
Robert Shayne

Joyce Terry

Richard Crane
Writers:
Aubrey Wisberg

Jack Pollexfen
Director:
Ewald André Dupont
WRC Score:
1/4
Note: 
First posted in
a different form
on July 14, 2011

Walking into this one, I thought I was watching a rip-off of Monster on Campus.  To my vast amusement I find that this is the earlier film.  So beyond these comments and a brief one in the Viewing Experience, you won’t find a comparison to that… I hesitate to say “worthy”.  Let’s be polite and say “better film”, then move on.

You will notice as you go through the Viewing Experience a shift in tone.  I wrote and condensed while I watched, as has been my wont.  I find this gives a better window on my thoughts as I experience things than I have afterwards.  I tend to see things more… favorable in the moment.

This will become even clearer in the Thoughts After the Film.  I’m writing this opening before doing that section, and I find myself growing more and more angry with this film as I go.  Not for the first time does this second thought process provoke a negative response.

Now you might ask yourself, why is Cullen so angry?  Click on the next page, and let’s find out together.

Kind of.  Sort of.  Take it as a figure of speech and let us move on.

The Ape

Opening Thoughts

Date:
1940
Stars:
Boris Karloff

Maris Wrixon

Gene O’Donnell
Writers:
Curt Sidomak

Richard Carroll
Director:
William Nigh
WRC Score:
2/4
Note: 
First posted in
a different form
on April 11, 2011

Boris Karloff.

Now there’s a name, in more ways than one.   While not the first to play the role, he is in many ways the definitive Frankenstein’s Monster.  The one every other Monster actor gets compared to and found lacking (and yeah, I’m including Curse of Frankenstein‘s Christopher Lee in this).

He made three movies portraying the role before moving on (the original, Bride of, and Son of, respectively), but by that time he was already type cast as “Monster”.  The type of monster, though, tended to change from film to film.  As the forties rolled in, when he wasn’t playing mad killers he was playing mad scientists.

Which, now that I think about it, are almost the same thing.  Except with more technobabble.

A perfect example of the mad scientist typecasting appears when one glances at his output in 1940.  Karloff made eight films that year, and half of them had him playing scientists of dubious methods, if not intent.  In Black Friday he was a surgeon performing the world’s first brain transplant, resulting in a man who was part average Joe, part gangster. In The Man with Nine Lives he was a research scientist who discovers the secrets of cryogenics and had no qualms murdering to continue his work.  In Before I Hang he plays a scientist who, through a poorly timed pardon, becomes the next Jekyll-and-Hyde.  Then in The Ape, he…

Wait a moment.  Why don’t we turn the page and find out ourselves?  It is today’s feature, after all.

The Ape Man

Date:
1943
Stars:

Bela Lugosi

Louise Currie

Wallace (ugh) Ford
Writer:
Barney A. Sarecky
Director:
William Beaudine
WRC Score:
1.5/4
Note: 
First posted in a
different form on
October 15, 2011

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The Ape Man tells the tragic story about a young scientist (played by sixty year old Bela Lugosi) who has accidentally turned himself into the title creature.  As no one will help him with finding a cure, he and his ape servant will go out and do the job themselves.  And if people die in the process?  Meh.

As one can judge by the proceeding paragraph, The Ape Man is a standard Horror fare.  But it has an extra problem, and I don’t mean co-star Wallace Ford.

Wait, I do mean Ford.  Why can’t movies kill his characters off in the first five minutes?  Why, God, Why?

But beyond that, how can you respect a film that has no respect for itself?

You can’t, really. The Ape Man is a transformation flick without a single transformation, a by-the-numbers job that hits a checklist of clichés before striding out the door. It comes close to mediocre, with a definite uptick in entertainment (at least for me) in the late quarter. However, the last three minutes (while mildly amusing) bring it low. (.5 point).

Most of The Ape Man left me with not enough to like though (1 points), but that’s a judgement call. I kept comparing this to the Boris Karloff vehicle The Ape and the numbers sort of slipped after that. Lugosi almost makes it worth while with his acting, but really, it isn’t near enough.

Overall Score: 1.5 total point out of a possible 4

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The Neanderthal Man

Date:
1953
Stars:
Robert Shayne

Joyce Terry

Richard Crane
Writers:
Aubrey Wisberg

Jack Pollexfen
Director:
Ewald André Dupont
WRC Score:
1/4
Note: 
First posted in
a different form
on July 14, 2011

2016-link box-001

A professor taps his primordial side in the hopes of proving that prehistoric man was superior to the modern version.  The results are The Neanderthal Man, an ape-like savage trapped in a world he doesn’t understand.

Oh, and he also creates sabretooth tigers.  Because who wouldn’t if they could?

The Neanderthal Man might have been a decent Horror flick.  Trouble is, it’s weighted down with a variety of problems.  A bad script, mostly, though there is a sabretooth tiger prop that tests “Seeing is believing” to its limits (the curious can click here without threat of spoilers).

Because of this problems, I’m giving The Neanderthal Man a bad mark, though it’s a close one.  Were we to be anal about the scoring, it be more .75 that .5.

But I’m not going to do that.

Because my scoring would become even more anal and obscure than it already is.

While at certain points I found myself involved in The Neanderthal Man, I find myself disliking the film the more I think about it. (0.5 point). Bottom line? If you need to see a professor turning into a caveman movie, seek out Monster on Campus instead.

Overall Score: 1 total point out of a possible 4

 

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The Ape

Date:
1940
Stars:
Boris Karloff

Maris Wrixon

Gene O’Donnell
Writers:
Curt Sidomak

Richard Carroll
Director:
William Nigh
WRC Score:
2/4
Note: 
First posted in
a different form
on April 11, 2011

2016-link-box-002

The Ape is about a disgraced doctor struggling to save the life of a young woman he considers a daughter.  His efforts will lead him to a dark place he might never come back from.

Oh, and there’s a killer ape involved.  Because it was the Forties and you could hardly swing around a stick in a Mad Scientist movie back then without hitting one.

I don’t review enough Boris Karloff films.  Actually, there’s a lot of actors I can say that about, but Karloff!  He set a bar few can reach.  Sometimes without saying a word at all.

With The Ape, Karloff plays lead, and does a great job making you feel for a man making the wrong choices for the right reasons.  Adding him in this is a script co-written by the great Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man).  It makes you wish it was better than it actually is.

It isn’t.  The Ape is little more than yet another Karloff-as-Mad-Scientist film.  No better, no worse (1 point).  I enjoyed it as I watched, but not enough to say I liked it. (1 point).

The Ape something to watch when you can’t get a hold of better Karloff.  Or maybe when you’ve seen one gore flick too many and you want something a little more old-fashioned.  At an hour and two minutes, you won’t waste too much of your time with it, that’s for certain.

Overall Score: 2 total points out of a possible 4

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