Review of “How to Make a Monster” (1958)

from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched this with Svengoolie and polished off the good chardonnay.

Plot:

Pete Dumond (Robert H. Harris) and his assistant Rivero (Paul Brinegar) have been creating monster make-up for the movies for twenty-five years. He has just finished an excellent (…it’s in the eye of the beholder…) teenage werewolf for a picture in which the werewolf and a teenage Frankenstein monster will duke it out.

On seeing himself in the mirror, the teenage werewolf, Larry Drake (Gary Conway), remarks that he’d scare himself.

After delivering the werewolf to the set, Dumond returns to the workshop. “I enjoy working with these teenagers,” he tells Rivero. “They’ve got spirit, and they cooperate. They don’t sour on you like some of the older actors.”

Two men walk in. When Dumond tells them it’s customary to knock, one of them, Jeff Clayton (Paul Maxwell), responds, “We don’t have to.” The other man introduces himself as John Nixon (Eddie Marr) and tells Dumond they are from the group taking over the studio. Once this picture is done, Dumond’s services will no longer be needed. The horror cycle is over. People want to hear music. They want to laugh. They want to see pretty girls. Dumond protests that he saved the studio from bankruptcy. They offer him a week’s severance pay.

Be still my heart.

Dumond is understandably upset. He stands outside staring at two movie posters, one for I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the other for I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. He first vows to destroy the studio then the new management. He has a plan, an ingredient he can put into the foundation makeup of his creations. As he explains to assistant Rivero, this new, unnamed ingredient enters the pores and makes the subject obedient to his will. Rivero offers little objection.

When Larry Drake next stops by to have his makeup applied, Dumond tells him about his career being over. He further tells him his own career is over. The new makeup feels weird. Dumond hypnotizes him.

Later, Nixon is watching the rushes of the Frankenstein/werewolf movie in the projection room. He’s alone. The viewer sees a furry paw reach over the back of the seat. The screams on the screen drown out Nixon’s screams.

Thoughts:

One redeeming aspect of this gruesome revenge flick is humor. It’s not camp or farce, but little side gags relieve the heaviness of the main story. On the (fictional) lot of the American International Studios, an actor dressed as a pirate sees Dumond leading his werewolf to the set. He gets an idea for a brilliant new script: he and his crew board a ship only to find the captain is a werewolf!

On another note, on the set, the director tells the two monsters, “Werewolf, meet Frankenstein. Shake hands and come out snarling.”

The device of the unnamed substance, absorbed through the pores of the skin, that makes a person subject to the will of another, even to the point of killing like a monster and then not remembering it—well, suffice to say, it gives the credulity a good workout. At the same time, one can’t help feel a little sympathy for Dumond. He believes his work saved the studio from bankruptcy, and now he’s being unceremoniously shown the door. Well, with a week’s severance pay.

However, perhaps he takes things too personally when he refers to the masks not only as his “creations” but as his “children.”

The idea that he could use made-up monsters to wreak his revenge is indicative of poor planning. It’s not like a guy in monster get-up can fade into the crowd.

I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein are actual films, both appearing the year before this one. Michael Landon was the werewolf in the earlier movie, and Gary Conway was the Frankenstein monster in both this and the earlier movie.

Most of the movie is in black and white. The end is presented in color for no discernable reason. Of course, color was still something of a novelty in 1958 and would add to the drama.

As for recommendations, this one is tougher than I thought it would be. I enjoyed the humor and like that the movie didn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time, most of the plot was hard to buy into. It was entertaining, but I don’t know if I’d want to watch it a second time.





Available: (1) 1958 How To Make a Monster (English) – YouTube

Title: How to Make a Monster (1958)

Directed by
Herbert L. Strock

Writing Credits
Aben Kandel…(original story) (as Kenneth Langtry) and
Herman Cohen…(original story)
Aben Kandel…(screenplay)(as Kenneth Langtry) and
Herman Cohen…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert H. Harris…Pete Dumond
Paul Brinegar…Rivero
Gary Conway…Tony Mantell–Teenage Frankenstein
Gary Clarke…Larry Drake–Teenage Werewolf
Malcolm Atterbury…Richards

Released: July 1, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

4 thoughts on “Review of “How to Make a Monster” (1958)

    1. It’s so hard to say. It was certainly an enjoyable evening for pizza and a glass of chardonnay with the dearly beloved, but you have to set aside a lot of “ya, but” to buy into the plot. I imagine it made a good drive-in flick back in the day.

  1. I love this movie. They guy takes a pretty severe turn from being really into his work to actually killing people. Got to watch out for the makeup people in movies.

    1. It’s always the quiet ones. What if… we can make the monsters real? I’m glad you loved it. I was on the fence about it. I certainly loved the humor. I felt sorry for Dumond. He had nothing outside of his work, and then he gets the boot. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the plot.

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