Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror – Blu-Ray Review

Eureka Entertainment’s latest boxset is a triple bill of old monster movies from the Universal vault. Two of the films, The Monolith Monster and Monster on the Campus, had involvement with B-movie auteur Jack Arnold. Arnold was the mastermind behind such films as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the surprisingly existential The Incredible Shrinking Man. However, the best film in the set is actually Man-Made Monster.

Man-Made Monster was created during the second wave of the Universal Horror movie cycle, and bears some striking similarities to The Wolf Man. Both films came out in 1941, were directed by George Waggner, and starred Lon Chaney, Jr., who would become a horror star that year due to the success of both films. Here Chaney plays a carny who has an electricity act, and miraculously survives an incident involving a bus and a power line. He agrees to Dr. John Lawrence’s proposal to conduct research on why he survived. However, Dr. Lawrence’s assistant is a budding mad scientist who wants to create an army of electrically controlled zombies.

The film itself isn’t anything you haven’t seen, and the rampage that Chaney goes on is very similar to the Wolf Man. However, it’s an incredibly enjoyable film that runs around a hour long. The script for Man-Made Monster actually had been around for a few years, and was stuck in development hell for a long time because Universal thought it was too similar to The Invisible Ray, a Karloff/Lugosi vehicle—which was the original intention for Man-Made Monster as well. The film ended up being a surprise hit, and a big money-turner because it was one of the cheapest films Universal financed around this period. The glow-in-the-dark effects for Chaney, while primitive by today’s standards, are still effective and very cool.

The largest legacy of Man-Made Monster, however, may be its role in founding American International Pictures. Realart Pictures was a distributor that specialized in re-issues of films from the Universal catalogue. They reissued the film under great titles like The Atomic Monster and The Electric Man. However, Alex Gordon had sent a script with the title The Atomic Man to Realart, and then he sent attorney Samuel Z. Arkoff to speak with Realart representative James H. Nicholson. There was a quick settlement for the screenwriter, and the three soon started their own company on the back of it, which would eventually become AIP.

The Monolith Monsters has a rare story credit from Jack Arnold. It’s a pretty unremarkable ’50s monster movie, but it has the distinction of being the only monster movie of the time to have its monster be completely chemical-based. The film is in the same cinematic universe as The Incredible Shrinking Man, because the fictional “California Medical Research Institute” appears in both films. Also, both films starred Grant Williams and came out in 1957. The Monolith Monsters may not be the best creature feature of its era, but regardless, it’s still pretty enjoyable and runs at 77 minutes. The film actually appears briefly in both They Live and Independence Day.

Finally, Monster on the Campus would turn out to be the last of Arnold’s sci-fi/horror films for Universal before he went on to work mostly in TV in the ’60s. Dr. Donald Blake (Arthur Franz), a science professor at Dunsford University, comes into contact with the blood of a coelacanth and gradually regresses into a primitive ape-like form. It’s pretty hokey, and Arnold himself admitted that “I didn’t really hate it, but I didn’t think it was up to the standards of the other films that I have done.” It doesn’t hold a candle to his other film work from the past few years. It’s an enjoyable but slight work, but again, it’s a pacey 77 minutes so it’s hard to hate on the film.

The films are spread over two discs: Monster on the Campus gets its own disc because it comes with two separate aspect ratios: you can watch the film in 1.33:1 and 1.85:1. Stephen Jones and Kim Newman supply commentary tracks on Man-Made Monster and Monster on the Campus. Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby do the commentary honours on The Monolith Monsters. Craig Ian Mann supplies words on each film for the booklet included in the first 2000 copies, which also includes a slipcover. 

★★★

Ian Schultz

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