Craig J. Clark — Mar. 26th 2013
In the wake of Universal’s success with The Wolf Man in 1941, two other studios rushed their own werewolf films into production, but only one of them had significant resources to throw behind it. The one that didn’t was Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation, which turned out The Mad Monster in record time, releasing it just five months after Larry Talbot first sprouted fur and ravaged the countryside.
Directed by Sam Newfield, a preternaturally prolific filmmaker who cranked ’em out at the rate of a dozen or more a year at his peak (and whose vast filmography includes such anti-classics as The Terror of Tiny Town, The Monster Maker and I Accuse My Parents), The Mad Monster stars George Zucco as a mad scientist whose theories on blood transfusions between species (which he believes will produce feral, unstoppable soldiers) got him laughed out of academia, forcing him to retreat to the swamp to conduct his unethical experiments in secret. There he injects the blood of a wolf into his slow-witted handyman Petro (Glenn Strange), who becomes a wolf man in a series of lap dissolves, and sets the savage beast on his critics. Well, that’s what Zucco says he’s going to do. Mostly he just lets Strange wander around the foggy swamp aimlessly — all the better to pad out the running time. There’s also a budding romance of sorts between cub reporter Johnny Downs and Zucco’s daughter (Anne Nagel), who believes he’s a great scientist without having any idea what he’s working on. Naturally she has to find out in the most dramatic way possible.
As it’s in the public domain, The Mad Monster has been packaged and repackaged several times over, and can be come by quite cheaply. Budget label Alpha Video has it by itself, but it can also be found in Mill Creek Entertainment’s “Horror Classics” 50-movie pack alongside a number of Newfield’s other PRC cheapies. The best way to see it, though, is with Joel and the Bots from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (it’s in Volume XIV from Shout! Factory). Even if they did tackle it in the show’s first season, when the writers were still working the kinks out, they gave it no quarter.
In comparison, 1942’s The Undying Monster has been treated much more respectfully on home video, but that’s what comes of having a major studio behind you. Produced by Twentieth Century-Fox on a substantially larger budget, the film was given a professional sheen by director John Brahm (who also did the 1944 version of The Lodger and 1945’s Hangover Square, released alongside The Undying Monster in the first “Fox Horror Classics” set) and cinematographer Lucien Ballard, who withhold for as long as possible the revelation that there’s something supernatural afoot at Hammond House.
Set at the turn of the century, The Undying Monster is in fact the dreaded Hammond Monster, which visits its curse upon siblings Heather Angel and John Howard, although they’re a bit blasé about it until it strikes them directly. That’s when Scotland Yard forensics specialist James Ellison and his eccentric assistant Heather Thatcher are brought in. The curious thing is they’re introduced in such a way that it seems like this is but one entry in a series of films featuring the duo, but that is not the case. The other major character is doctor Bramwell Fletcher, who clearly knows what’s going on from the start but is tight-lipped about it until the last minute. For a film that barely tops an hour, that doesn’t leave much time for the monster to do its thing.