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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Friday, August 24, 2018

How to Make a Monster (1958)

It is Friday so again we must dive into the Fifties for another bit of cinematic fun from the decade of giant bugs and invaders from outer space. Though this time we don’t really get either of those. In fact, there really isn’t a monster in the traditional sense.

Pete Dumond is an old school makeup man who has spent the last twenty-five years creating monsters for the studio where he works. But things are about to change when the place is sold, and he is told that the monster cycle is over. Dumond gets fired after all of those years and creations! This causes the old guy to snap and he uses a special makeup foundation that makes the actors under the Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein makeups suggestable. That means he can send them out to get rid of the studio honchos that fired him! Murders follow until the police finally figure things out. It all leads to a fiery finale where both Pete and his “children” meet their end.

How to Make a Monster is a decently paced and entertaining bit of fun. The run time is only seventy-three minutes and it doesn’t waste a second of it. We get to the monsters and the killing right away. The movie doesn’t break any new ground but does function as a sort of mad scientist story with the twist of it being a makeup artist. The cast is decent and filled with a lot of regulars from the old days of American International Pictures, aka. AIP. All of the makeup is recycled from earlier movies, I’ll talk about that in more detail later, but it is good work. This is just a solid bottom half of a double feature from a prolific studio and producer that knew what they were doing.

Now onto the good stuff. This movie is without a doubt the cleverest use of existing materials and locations that I’ve ever seen in a low budget flick. Almost the entire movie takes place on the lot and in soundstages that producer Herman Cohen already had on hand. He even worked in a musical number with actor Jon Ashley who sort of comes across as a bootleg Elvis Presley. Though most of us probably know him for his exploitation flicks from the seventies Ashley was a regular in the AIP movies when How to Make a Monster was shot. It makes sense that Cohen worked in a musical number for this movie under the guise that it was being shot on the lot.

It was awesome to see the Saucerman in color
Ashley isn’t the only familiar “face” on display. The two main creatures are Teenage Frankenstein and Teenage Werewolf. These were both movies that came out the year before How to Make a Monster and were from the same studio. They just reused the makeup and wrote that they were making a versus sequel to those movies as the reason. That is pure genius. Later on, in the big finale we get to see the inner sanctum of Dumond and are treated to more monsters hanging on the walls including the creatures from It Conquered the World and Invasion of the Saucer Men, a personal favorite of mine. What is really special is that while most of the movie is in black and white the last couple minutes is in color. This was done as a gimmick but is also the only time that you will see any of these classic AIP monsters in anything other than black and white. Sure, we have stills, but this is still cool to see them in a movie in color.

One of the reasons that I do these reviews every week is to try and turn people onto some of the movies that I grew up watching. If you have been paying attention to this series I love these old fifties flicks. How to Make a Monster is one of those forgotten gems that I want to and need to point out to people. If you haven’t seen this one check it out. You can find it very easily and it is worth an hour and thirteen minutes of your life. I recommend it highly.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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