How to Make a Monster (1958) Poster

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An homage to AIP
Noel (Teknofobe70)6 April 2005
It could be argued that American International Pictures revived the werewolf in the late 50's with "I Was A Teenage Werewolf". It was released at a time when television was becoming common in the home, which meant that fewer people went out to the movie theatres. Those that did were largely of a teenage audience, something that AIP clearly understood, and the success of their movie ensured a revival of the whole genre.

In this clever, self-referential sequel (of sorts), American International Studios are closing down production of horror movies in order to make more musicals, which sounds fairly true to life in what may have been happening in some studios at the time. Anyway, this means that famed makeup artist Pete Dumond, possibly based on Jack Pierce, will be out of a job because he specialises only in monsters. He isn't too happy about all this, so he decides to take revenge on the new owners of the studio by turning his "Teenage Werewolf" and "Teenage Frankenstein" actors into real monsters using a mind control makeup paste thingy. It all takes place during the filming of a "Teenage Werewolf meets the Teenage Frankenstein" movie.

This is a pretty neat idea, and the script explores it very well. There's some great cheesy dialogue, a wonderful lead performance from Robert H. Harris as the makeup artist, and from Paul Brinegar as his nervous assistant. The two 'teenage' stars, who were actually in their early twenties when this film was made, play their roles with that all-American wide-eyed innocence that actually works pretty well in parts such as this.

AIP were famed for producing their horror movies on low budgets, often less than a hundred thousand while at the time major studios generally set their budgets in the millions. This movie doesn't really look that cheap, the sets look perfectly fine especially the final set in the makeup artist's house where the big finale takes place. This also features a dramatic shift into color so that you can appreciate his mask collection even more, which is pretty neat.

"How To Make A Monster" is a very entertaining film, which I'd recommend to anyone who likes these cheesy old horror movies. You won't be disappointed.
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A must for American International Fans
djoyjr28 March 2006
I just finished watching the "Cult Classics" DVD release, which included the color footage mentioned in the other comment. Besides many familiar (and unfamiliar) monster heads, the film is a virtual who's who of American International Studio players from the 50's. One can almost suspect the movie was made to keep the contact players busy between films. If only Michael Landon had appeared as the Teenage Werewolf, I would have given it another couple points in the ratings. One also has to give the studio credit as the studio itself becomes the "back lot" for the film. And certainly, the plot of killing off studio executives must have appealed to all the writers, actors and production staff making the film.
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A quality, engaging film
Brandt Sponseller18 August 2006
How to Make a Monster is an American International Pictures film about and set on the lot of American International Pictures. The premise is that the studio has been sold, and the new owners are going to make some major changes, including canning in-house employee Pete Dumond (Robert H. Harris), a noted master of horror make-up. It then becomes a relatively simple revenge flick, with a nice, slightly sci-fi twist in the method of revenge.

The idea behind this film is very clever. It also provided an effective means of saving money on the production, since not many sets had to be built or dressed, and even when that was necessary, AIP was able to use materials on hand from other films, such as the gallery of masks, in a way that makes this a self-referential treat for horror fans. The idea is good enough that especially in our modern era of film industry cannibalization, it's surprising that it hasn't been used far more often.

Aside from the admirable tightness of the script and the evergreen attraction of revenge films, How to Make a Monster works as well as it does because of the performances. Harris is a fairly subtle psycho, and extremely effective as an anti-hero. Especially in contemporary times, his situation--getting laid off after a company takeover--will find him many sympathizers, but it's also that he plays the role with such a mellow, likable, grandfatherly charm, and a self-righteousness rooted in his expertise and pride in a job well done. As others have noted, there are subtexts in the film of (homo)sexual predation, which give an added air of creepiness to Harris. His unwitting targets on that end, Tony Mantell (Gary Conway) and Larry Drake (Gary Clarke), are played with an appropriate wide-eyed and willing innocence.

If there's a flaw in How to Make a Monster it's that nothing about it--except maybe the very final scene--is particularly atmospheric or suspenseful, but oddly, it really doesn't matter, because it's a good story told well enough that it keeps you engaged for its length. I still haven't quite figured out why a few American International Pictures, including this one, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and War of the Colossal Beast (1958), have the final scenes in color (I know it was a gimmick, but I don't really get the attraction of it as a gimmick), but it doesn't disrupt the flow of the film and it's nice seeing the gallery of masks in color.
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Nice Little Horror Picture
BaronBl00d19 June 2000
In 1957, American International Pictures had a big hit with their I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Immediately following its heels came I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and then this film. This film is in many ways an inside look at the workings of the movie business and its thinking in the 50s as well as the ending chapter in the Teenage Trilogy cycle at AIP. It is not a great horror picture by any standards, yet it is fun to watch. It has a pretty good story about a make-up man who gets the pink slip and then promises to kill the execs who fired him and bring the studio to its knees. Mild-mannered Robert Harris plays the vengeful artist with restrained aplomb. He effectively captures the insanity that courses through his mind with great subtlety. In the end, we see Harris for what he real was...not just an innocent artist but a monster obsessed with his works and his creations in much the same vein as Vincent Price's character in The House of Wax. The rest of the actors are acceptable, and the ending scene where we see the works of the artist is a walk down memory lane. On the walls one can see the head mask of the She-Creature, the It from It Conquered the World, one of the saucer men from Invasion of the Saucer Men, and many others. The colour sequence that is suppose to be in the final 8 minutes of the film does not exist on any version of the video presently out. Hope it is remastered.
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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
Jeffrey Talbot18 May 1999
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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Entertaining Horror Film With Unique Twist
Space_Mafune29 August 2002
A make-up man named Pete Dumond(well-played by Robert H. Harris) seeks revenge on a group of new studio executives who fired him by unleashing his Frankenstein and Werewolf creations upon them! He controls the young actors in the costumes via a special make-up which turns the actors into Pete's zombies.

This film is a little bit more serious than most of Herman Cohen's productions and a such just a little bit less fun. Still you can tell the actors/actresses involved here are enjoying themselves and their roles and this spirit does manage to come across to the audience. The color climax is wonderfully achieved and features some of Paul Blasidell's finest creations in a surprisingly intense sequence. Good solid B-entertainment.
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One of the most amusing horror films of the 50s
funkyfry11 October 2002
Amusing third sequel to "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" combines the Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein. Under fear of termination, a film studio makeup wizard (possibly modelled on one of the family Westmore?) applies "a special fixing agent" to his teenage actor's monster makeup that turns them into real monsters. Given such an unusual, original premise, the results of the film are not too disappointing: several brutal killings, lots of monsters, and even John Ashley's B-grade Elvis impersonation (surely done for laughs, let's hope). the film supposes the existence of "American International Studios" -- a nice thought, but filmmaking had already changed a lot, and AIP was never able to rent a steady digs, so this one just has to stay a fantasy. Did anyone else notice how heavily homoerotic the makeup guy's relationship to the boys was? He always called them "my boys" and talked at one point about having them "in his hands". Plus, note their uncomfortable reaction when he wants them to come to his house for some drinks. Funny stuff, certainly holding up to Herman Cohen's other AIP productions, which were among their best early efforts.
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How To Make A Nice Movie!
rudystevens42215 August 2003
Contains spoilers a wonderful Herman Cohen production, and his third film with talented director Herbert L. Strock. This film is a lot of fun, and is very entertaining! Director Strock keeps things moving at a fast pace! And it is a pure delight! Music and story line are excellent and so is the fine cinematography! Robert H. Harris stars as makeup man Pete Dumont, the new owners are taking over the studio, that Pete works for,(American International). Monster makeup man Pete is given the pink slip, as they no longer need his services, because monster movies are out and musicals are in! The egotistical studio executives treat Pete with heartless abandonment! Harris excels in his role as the psychotic Pete Dumont! He begins to lose his mind, and becomes a homicidal maniac,as he methodically kills all who are in his way, one by one! He also does it with the aid of his mesmerizing makeup. Pete tries to bring two young actors, into his madness, and succeeds through the aid of his makeup he uses on them, they become assassins! The young actors are Gary Conway, and Gary Clarke, as Tony and Larry, the teenage Frankenstein, and the teenage werewolf. Tony and Larry are not cognitive of the murders they commit afterwards, while under the influence of the mind controlling drug, that Pete has introduced to his makeup formula! The local police are baffled as dead studio executives start showing up all around the studio! Even a studio guard, is beaten to a pulp by Pete who is in monster makeup, after he starts to ask Pete one question too many! The police captain played by the well liked veteran fifties Si Fi actor, Morris Ankrum. Also in the cast is another Si Fi great Thomas B. Henry (The Brain From Planet Arous) (Twenty Million Miles To Earth) many others, he plays a studio director. One memorable scene shows Gary Clarke in full teenage werewolf makeup, as he throttles a studio executive, while spittle runs down his mouth! Another scene has the powerfully built Conway hiding in a executive's garage as the teenage Frankenstein, he proceeds to break the back of the smart aleck executive. Gary Conway and Gary Clarke are two excellent actors and they do well in this film. The ending is a gem, as Pete by this time is a raving lunatic! After he kills his assistant (Paul Brinegar) with a large ceremonial knife, he then attempts to separate the boys heads from their bodies and add them to his monster collection on his wall! Tony and Larry don't like the idea of decapitation, and try to escape. A fire breaks out and the whole place starts going up in flames! Tony and Larry get out, but Pete is left standing in the middle of the flames screaming about the destruction of his children! The climax turns to color. On the wall of the makeup man's house are some of monster maker Paul Blaisdell's finest creations! This film is just as entertaining as another Herman Cohen and Herbert L. Strock collaboration, (I Was A Teenage Frankenstein) also for American International Pictures. Under the excellent direction of Herbert L. Strock this movie works. Strock also also directed one of the best science fiction movies of the fifties (The Magnetic Monster), for United Artists, when he was called in to replace the first director. Both films are highly recommended!
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moonspinner551 May 2001
Pseudo "behind-the-scenes" look at Hollywood from American International Pictures, filmed (naturally) on the cheap though still retaining a certain cheesy style that is both commendable and entertaining to watch. A nefarious make-up man for a movie-studio is up to no good, turning the actors he's working on into killers. Has some movie-monster camp appeal, and A.I.P. stable-hunk John Ashley has a fabulous scene midway through (singing "You Gotta Have That Eee-Uuu!" while surrounded by a bevy of fishnet-clad chorus girls!). It's a great bit, with Ashley snarling and snapping his fingers like a post-pubescent Elvis, but the rest of this horror outing is a bit too tame and talky. ** from ****
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Early Post-Modern Horror.
AaronCapenBanner30 October 2013
Herbert L. Strock once again directs a horror thriller for AIP, but this time with a twist: This story is about AIS studio make-up artist Pete Dumond(inspired by real-life Universal make-up artist Jack Pierce?) who turns homicidal after new owners fire him, intending to phase out horror pictures altogether! Enraged, he uses a combination of hypnosis and his own chemical compound to transform actors Gary Conway(Teenage Frankenstein) and Gary Clarke(Teenage Werewolf, in place of Michael Landon)into real monsters, who kill all those who would put Pete out of work. Local police are of course baffled. Despite a clever premise, this is otherwise uninspired, being just another standard revenge picture, leading to a silly and abrupt finale. Still, it is amusing to think of the unfinished "Teenage Werewolf Vs. Teenage Frankenstein" picture being made in the film!
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