THE MAD MONSTER (1942) is a Grade Z horror pic worth watching because it stars everyone’s favorite Grade Z horror movie mad scientist George Zucco and future Frankenstein Monster Glenn Strange here playing a serum-induced werewolf.
And if that’s not enough, the film features tropical almost prehistoric looking jungle forests. Does the story take place in the Amazon? Nope. It’s just the view outside the mad scientist’s humble home, somewhere in swampy small town America, although it looks more like swampy small town Skull Island!
The screenplay by Fred Myton tells a straightforward story, especially for a low budget film from the 1940s. Mad scientist Dr. Cameron (George Zucco) is miffed that his fellow scientists scoffed at his work, and so not only does he seek to prove them wrong, but he also seeks vengeance against them. His experiments involve injecting the essence of different animals into humans, sort of a Dr. Moreau style of thinking, or DNA mixing, ahead of its time. Of course, the film doesn’t even attempt to get any of the science right.
Dr. Cameron injects his hulk of a gardener Petro (Glenn Strange) with the essence of a wolf, turning him in effect into a werewolf, and he sends him off to kill all his doubting scientist colleagues! Meanwhile, Cameron’s beautiful daughter Lenora (Anne Nagel) tries to stand by her father, but her hardnosed boyfriend reporter Tom (Johnny Downs) isn’t having any of it and sets out to prove that her father is a murderer.
As Dr. Cameron, George Zucco is as demented as expected. Zucco could play a madman in his sleep, and he portrayed one so often in the movies that he probably did! Zucco also enjoyed the recurring role of Egyptian high priest Andoheb in several of the Universal MUMMY movies. He also played Professor Bruno Lampini, a bit part in Universal’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944). He only has a couple of lines in that one, but he makes the most of them. Here, he is as villainous and as insane as you want your mad scientist to be. And he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.
Glenn Strange, who would go on to play the Frankenstein Monster in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), plays a werewolf here. It’s been said, and it’s true, that Strange bears a strong resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr. Chaney, of course, played a werewolf in the now classic THE WOLF MAN (1941), but Strange’s performance here captures none of Chaney’s work in THE WOLF MAN. However, it does borrow from another Chaney role, that of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN (1939). When he’s not a werewolf, Strange’s Petro talks, looks, and acts like Chaney’s Lennie.
It’s interesting to note that Strange’s werewolf here is created by scientific means. This is significant because in the Universal werewolf movies the werewolf was created by supernatural circumstances. Lycanthropy was shared by the bite of other werewolves. This is so in both the Lon Chaney Jr. werewolf movies and THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). Two werewolf movies from the 1950s, THE WEREWOLF (1956), and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) are generally credited as being the first werewolf movies to feature these creatures as being created by mad scientists, but THE MAD MONSTER did it first a good fifteen years earlier.
As werewolves go, Glenn Strange’s creature in this movie is meh. The make-up is so-so, but what did you expect from a grade z horror picture? Still, with Strange’s considerable bulk, the creature looks menacing. However, Strange completely lacks the animal ferocity which Lon Chaney Jr. brought to his wolf man role.
That being said, credit director Sam Newfield for setting up some frightening scenes in this one, like having Strange sitting with his head down next to one of the unsuspecting scientists, and the audience knows that when he looks up, he will have changed into the murderous beast! There’s also a neat scene where Strange transforms in the back seat of a car, and the sequence where the werewolf snatches a young child from her bedroom window and then kills her is downright disturbing. While the action in these scenes takes place off camera, the set-up allows one’s imagination to take over.
Of course, at the end of the day, THE MAD MONSTER really isn’t scary. Mostly because Strange’s werewolf isn’t all that horrifying. While he’s certainly creepy to behold as he lumbers through the bizarre tropical swamp, he’s a little too slow to instill fear. The creature’s speed here is more reminiscent of another Lon Chaney Jr. creation, Kharis, the Mummy.
In another “strange” occurrence, Glenn Strange isn’t the only actor with the name Strange in this movie. Robert Strange plays one of the other scientists. No relation.
THE MAD MONSTER in the title may seem to refer to the monster played by Glenn Strange, but his werewolf is not that angry or insane. Now, George Zucco’s scientist Dr. Cameron is certainly angry and insane! So, my money is on Dr. Cameron as being the MAD MONSTER in the title.
Either way, you have two great horror actors, George Zucco and Glenn Strange, in one very low budget horror movie, the perfect combination for some late-night September horror movie viewing.
I love these films for never pretending to aspire to being more than they were — a fun romp through pulp fiction….Thank you for giving them a new audience!
Happy to do it.