(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
B-movie stalwart Sam Newfield, who also delivered such gems as The Mad Monster and Dead Men Walk, helms The Monster Maker from 1944. This film was released by Sigmund Neufeld’s famed Producers Releasing Company and actually features a more formidable budget than their typical fare, which may explain the ape. Yes, there’s an ape.
Like many movies of this genre, there is a mad scientist and there are ethical questions. Unlike many movies of this genre, the mad scientist in question doesn’t have any misgivings about his experiments. What’s more, he’s not above blackmailing people and generally being a creep. He has an entranced helper. And the ape. Don’t forget the ape.
J. Carrol Naish is the scientist in question, a Dr. Igor Markoff. The audience is first introduced to him at a concert, where he’s staring at Patricia (Wanda McKay). She gets uncomfortable and things become more awkward when it turns out that Dr. Igor knows Patricia’s father Anthony Lawrence (Ralph Morgan), who was playing piano at said concert.
Dr. Igor is doing a bunch of experiments and desires Patricia because she looks exactly like his dead wife. Together with his assistant Maxine (Tala Birell), Dr. Igor is injecting serums on human subjects. When Anthony arrives to tell his buddy to leave his daughter alone, the scientist clubs him and injects him with the serum. Anthony becomes disfigured and won’t be playing that damn piano any time soon.
Dr. Igor is into something called “acromegaly,” which Dr. Google reveals is an abnormal growth of the hands, feet and even face caused by an evil serum developed in a laboratory by a mad scientist with a hot assistant. There’s no real reason given for Dr. Igor’s fascination with acromegaly, which is fine because he’s nuts.
It takes some time for Anthony to experience the effects of the serum. At first, he seems to have too much energy and can’t even play the piano properly. Slowly, he starts to experience the disfigurement and eventually hides out in the dark until his daughter discovers him. She turns to Dr. Igor, believing he can fix whatever’s wrong with her pops.
But Anthony doesn’t want Dr. Igor’s treatment because he knows what really happened to him, so he tries his best to communicate with his daughter before it’s too late. The scientist cranks up the blackmail machine and says he won’t cure Patricia’s dad unless she ties the knot with him, which is the best way to a girl’s heart. She says she won’t and the plot thickens, in a manner of speaking.
Naish is pretty good as the hair-raising Dr. Igor, who can’t get over the fact that Patricia looks like his late wife. From the early scene where he gawks at her to the scene where he’s apparently indulging his foot fetish before her worthless suitor (Terry Frost) decides it’s clobberin’ time, Naish is a bold creep. He’s also got his assistant under some kind of spell, but she is capable of some defiance here and there.
The Monster Maker is never a terrifying affair, but it does contain a few moments of eeriness thanks to Dr. Igor’s tenacity. He’s like a hulking frat boy incapable of hearing the word “no,” only he has an ape. Said ape bursts into a woman’s apartment after he’s let out of his coop, but the scene fades before anything untoward can occur. A shame.
The Monster Maker is sometimes senseless. For the most part, though, it focuses on the blackmail and the spookiness. It doesn’t exact its potential with Anthony’s acromegaly and how it effects his pianist career, which is actually a problem for many men his age. And there’s no novelty to speak of in terms of the aesthetics. But there is an ape, so all bets are off.