‘How to Make a Monster’
by Tom Doty Times Columnist
A lame duck make-up man embarks on a sinister plan for revenge after he is fired by the new studio head, in this clever horror outing that manages to skewer the low-budget studio system.
In the 1990s, “Scream” brought horror flicks a wave of credibility. It wasn’t the first film to have fun with its own genre trappings. This movie did it first and managed to carve out a decent flick, despite budgetary constraints.
In the late 1950s, horror was dying on the vine. The wave of nuclear horror flicks, where critters would get radiated and grow to 10 times their size, was done. A nasty invention called television was stealing audiences and 3-D could no longer bridge the gap. Meanwhile, a guy called “Elvis” was making musicals popular again, while “Beach Blanket” movies were thriving. Despite these challenges, a producer named Herman Cohen thrived by making monster movies.
Cohen figured out that teens were anxious to get out of the house, so he began programming his horror flicks to appeal to the youth of America. He hit it out of the park with “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” He was quick to exploit his own formula and followed up with “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.” He took it all to the Nth degree by making this film next.
Here you get a studio being taken over by young business types who want to shut down the horror department and focus on making musicals with a hot discovery who rocks a slick pompadour and gyrating hips (played here by John Ashley, who would go on to become a producer with the hit series “The A-Team”). The new regime deserves credit for firing people in person, and they have no problem telling master make-up Kahuna Pete Dumond that he is out of work, while the guy is in the middle of effects work for a “Werewolf vs. Frankenstein” opus.
Pete may be balding, outdated and kind of dull, but he isn’t taking this treatment. He goes on the attack by mixing Novocaine with his face paint to turn his actors/monsters into actual killers (okay, the science isn’t smart). The stars kill the executives while Pete uses his control over them to make them forget what they have done.
It is a perfect plan until he invites them over to his house, where the actors prove they are not so bad at picking up cues. Turns out, these guys know a creepy old man when they see one and choose to rabbit over staying behind to become another trophy on Pete’s self proclaimed “Wall of Fame.”
It takes guts to skewer your own formula while it is still working for you, so props are due to Mr. Cohen. By all accounts, he was a cheap guy who stole credit from everybody, but he got movies made.
He was right, too. Musicals and beach movies did upset the apple cart for a bit, but a motion picture company in London was poised to take it all back . The next year saw Hammer Films jump start horror again by adding colors, blood and heaving bosoms into the formula. Horror was back.
To be honest, horror never goes away and lies where you find it. I mean have you ever tried to sit through a beach movie? I have tons of respect for the late Annette Funicello, but those flicks do not withstand the test of time. This film does, though, and was even remade a decade back for the Showtime Network.
“You want real heads on your walls?”
“Werewolf meet Frankenstein, now come out snarling.”
“Some party. All the guests are stuffed heads.”
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