The Mad Monster
the mad monster | sam newfield | fred myton | johnny downs | george zucco | anne nagel | monster | creature | werewolf | drama | romance | sci-fi | united states | glenn strange | sarah padden | gordon de main | mae busch | reginald barlow | robert strange | henry hall
Film: The Mad Monster
Director: Sam Newfield
Writer: Fred Myton
Starring: Johnny Downs, George Zucco and Anne Nagel
This is a movie that I discovered thanks to Letterboxd when searching for horror from 1942. I was surprised to see George Zucco, as I know him from The Mummy’s Hand, The Cat and the Canary, The Monster and The Girl and from the same year, The Mummy’s Tomb. I also recognized the name Anne Nagel. This is one that I came into blind, assuming we would be getting a creature feature of sorts.
Synopsis: a mad scientist changes his simple-minded handyman into a werewolf to prove his crazy scientific theories – and exact revenge.
We start in the laboratory of Dr. Lorenzo Cameron (Zucco). As the synopsis said, he was mocked by his colleagues. He believes that he could take this secretion from the blood of animals and use it to change humans. There are military applications here that he wants to use it for. We see as he assesses it on Petro (Glenn Strange), who is his handyman. The injection changes Petro into a wolfman. Another one changes him back. Petro doesn’t remember fully when he changes, but he does have odd dreams. Dr. Cameron also tells him that he just goes to sleep.
Staying with the doctor is his daughter, Lenora (Anne Nagel). She is upset that her father moved her out to this bayou without telling her boyfriend where she is. The problem there is that Tom Gregory (Johnny Downs) is a newspaper reporter. Dr. Cameron doesn’t want him knowing what he is doing. We also see that the doctor is a bit insane with rage. He imagines his colleagues mocking him after he completes his experiments.
The first test that Dr. Cameron does involves letting the monster version of Petro off the table he’s secured to. He knows that he can command it with a whip. He lets the monster go off into the night. During this, he scares a bunch of locals and ends up killing a little girl. Dr. Cameron gets him back under control and strapped down, giving him the injection to change him back.
From there, Dr. Cameron takes Petro into the city. He uses him to get revenge first on a Professor Blaine (Robert Strange). He gives Petro one injection and then leaves him with the other doctor. Dr. Cameron is smart and sets up an alibi in the process. Tom learned of the attack out in the swamp and notices it is like what happened now in the city. He misses his girlfriend and that puts him on the trail of the mad doctor.
That is where I’ll leave my recap as well as introducing our characters. Where I want to start is with the premise of the movie. This is an interesting, earlier werewolf movie. The Wolf Man would have been out the prior year. It feels like this movie is taking the mad scientist from Frankenstein and mixing in this creature. To be honest, I don’t mind the meshing of the two. It doesn’t take long to introduce these elements. We also see early on that Dr. Cameron is mad and a bit crazy. There is an intriguing scene with him talking to spectral figures of the doctors he is going after. This movie isn’t pushing much of a mystery, going more for the revenge angle.
Since I’ve discussed the doctor and referenced the monster, that is where I’ll go next. Petro is portrayed by Glenn Strange who has a lot of credits. He is an imposing figure so it didn’t shock me to see that he was in things as Frankenstein’s Monster with Universal. He is given a bit more to play with and I think it works. He plays a large, but simple-minded guy. He means well in what he does. He is also a tragic figure. The doctor is making him into the monster. There is a great scene where it shows his face when he realizes something he did in that other form. I thought that was great from him. The only other thing here is that we are getting a forced Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well. Petro changes without the injections. I do think we are getting a bit of commentary on the monster inside of man, but it isn’t as effective there since it isn’t Petro’s choice originally.
Then the only other part of the story would be with Tom and the other doctors. For the former, I like that he’s built into the narrative. He’s there to write a sensational article if possible. I do think we are getting commentary here about how tragedy sells. Someone calls him out for that. Tom is turned on to this by the death of the child. The other part comes with Professor Fitzgerald (Gordon De Main), Professor Warwick (Reginald Barlow) and Professor Blaine. They don’t believe that Dr. Cameron can do what he claims. It mostly because it is science fiction. There also seems to be a bit of tampering with things that you shouldn’t. That slides back into being a Frankenstein narrative. What is troubling from what I heard was that he wants to make soldiers are that vicious and stronger than normal. I can be slightly forgiving since it would be around World War II and we were afraid of the Axis powers. It is troubling to me as well as horrific.
That should be enough for that, so I’ll go over to the acting. I think for the most part it is fine. If anything, we are getting overacting. Downs has good charisma as Tom. I think that Zucco does a great job as the villainous doctor. He turns on a bit of charm, but it is never for a good reason. Nagel is attractive. She isn’t given much to work with outside of a reason for Tom to come around. I liked Glenn Strange in his performance. I’d say that the professors, De Main, Robert Strange and Barlow are all fine. The acting isn’t great, but I didn’t have glaring issues with it.
This will then bring me to the filmmaking aspects. I was excited to see that we got transformation sequences. I’m assuming that was used a few times, just shown forward or in reverse depending on what is needed. I’m going to give credit there since I’ve seen movies after this that don’t try. From what I can see, it is just time lapsed photography, but it was something. The look of the creature is fine. It is a different take on the werewolf, which I can appreciate as well. I’d say that the cinematography was fine. They do well in getting that vibe of the swamps around where this takes place. Outside of that, they don’t do anything too out there. This is also early into cinema so there is that. The soundtrack also didn’t stand out. I did like the wolf howling and how the creature sounds, so I do give credit there.
In conclusion, this movie is better than the rating that is has on the Internet Movie Database. This is an interesting early werewolf film that is combining elements of revenge and a mad scientist. There is a bit of overacting, but there are still good performances from the likes of Zucco, Nagel and even Glenn Strange. His size is good for the monster. I liked that we also got a transformation sequence. I’d even say that the makeup overall was solid. This is a bit slow though and lacking elements to be a classic.
My Rating: 6 out of 10