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Accomplished but eccentric movie make-up artist Pete Dumond has been with the studio for decades and is totally devoted to his art especially in the creation of screen monsters. His world ends abruptly when new management acquires the company and arbitrarily decides that the horror cycle has run its course, and the studio will now concentrate on escapist musicals. When Dumond hears he will be pink-slipped, the neurotic but usually affable Pete turns psychotic and vows vengeance on the two movie executives responsible. Using a combination of hypnosis and a newly developed chemical formula, Dumond is able to use mind control to compel the young actors playing the teenage Frankenstein and werewolf to exact vengeance for him. Written by
Bizarre tale of a latent madman who wreaks havoc against the movie studio where he's employed. This disturbing shocker deftly contrasts make-believe horrors of motion pictures with the psychotic killers of
Movie audiences attracted by the sensationalistic advertising proclaiming, "See the ghastly ghouls in flaming colour!", doubtlessly expected that the film HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER was actually a colour movie and were surprised and disappointed to discover that the film was essentially a black and white feature with the final 8 minutes shot in colour (Leonard Maltin in his movie guide review states it is the final 18 minutes but this is probably a typographic error).
By the late 1950's, Britain's Hammer Films was producing, to great critical acclaim and financial success, a series of well-crafted horror movies which boasted that they were filmed in colour. These pioneering efforts marked the beginning of the end for the relatively inexpensive black and white programmers which had been the mainstay for the success of film companies like American International Pictures. Probably in an effort to tap into this ready-made market for colour movies, it was determined that small portions of a film would be economically shot in colour so it could be extensively promoted in the film's publicity (another consideration was to also utilize colour sequences for effect). With his next project, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, producer Herman Cohen would present his own answer to the Hammer movies by filming it in England and in colour.
For those interested, the colour footage begins after Pete Dummond and his captive guests, Tony and Larry, along with Pete's accomplice, Rivero, enter his house and Dummond lights some candles in his living-room/macabre shrine. Unfortunately the prints made available to television and home video omit the colour and are struck in black and white and there has been no real outcry from horror fandom or any of the genre magazines to effect a restoration of the colour footage. Perhaps someday soon this longstanding negligence on the part of the film's distributors will be rectified.
The script for HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER is credited to Herman Cohen and Kenneth Langtry. Kenneth Langtry is a pseudonym for a writer actually named Aben Kandel (he also employed the pen-name Ralph Thornton), who collaborated with producer Herman Cohen on a number of film projects including I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, BLOOD OF DRACULA, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, THE HEADLESS GHOST, KONGA and THE BLACK ZOO.
Kandel's script for HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER is a reworking of much of the same plot elements found in his TEENAGE WEREWOLF and FRANKENSTEIN films, but the villain of this piece not only employs those under his control to commit murder, he also participates in some of the mayhem himself. Perhaps sensing that the late 1950's audiences were becoming too sophisticated for outright monsters in horror films, author Kandel decided to weave a story utilizing this theme and present the movie audience with a much more realistic menace, the psychotic mastermind/killer (Cohen and Kandel would carry this concept to its logical extreme the following year in HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, a horror film without a monster in sight).
The efforts behind HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER would be much diminished without the presence of character actor Robert H. Harris. His skilled interpretation of the deranged makeup artist Pete Dummond is a multi-faceted one eliciting a wide-range of qualities which at one moment engenders our respect as he encourages a young actor to give his utmost to his film role, our sympathy in the wake of the overbearing new studio executives and their pragmatism and crassness toward horror films and his art, and our dread as he tells his two guests in his monster museum that he wants to include their "heads" in his collection. His scenes where he brow-beats his weak-willed assistant, Rivero, over his incompetency and cowardice are an absolute delight. Harris portrays his villain in a quietly menacing fashion making his characterization all the more sinister and his subtle and controlled performance is a memorable one.
One wishes that Michael Landon could have been recruited to reprise his teenage werewolf role, his participation would have certainly added more stature and authenticity to the proceedings. Since the story supposedly occurs at American International studios, instead of utilizing an actor to portray the director of "Frankenstein Meets Werewolf," it's a pity AIP standby Roger Corman wasn't approached to fill the role and it seems only fitting that James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff (the actual founders of American International) should have somehow been worked into the storyline. All these additions would have given HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER a more auto-biographical and self-parody tone.
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER is an engaging and fascinating oddity from American International Pictures of the 1950's and marks an interesting phase in the chronology of Herman Cohen productions for this movie company.
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