As we enter the final week of Halloween month, it’s time to shift gears and go old school. It would not be right to not have at least one movie from the legendary Lon Chaney Jr. Many fans consider The Wolf-Man (1941) as the starting point of his career but, in reality, he had been acting since 1931. However, he was essentially a character actor playing tough guy roles. In 1940, he started to sneak into the horror genre by starring in the original version of One Million B.C. before working on his first full-fledged Universal Horror flick, Mon-Made Monster. Filmed months before The Wolf-Man, this was Lon’s first time as a leading man and it could be argued that this film is what laid the ground work for what was to follow over the next several years.
Despite playing the primary role, he was second-billed to Lionel Atwill, who was already established in the horror/mystery/thriller genre thanks to his work on such films as Son of Frankenstein and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Lon plays Dan McCormick, a sideshow huckster who does tricks with electricity. After surviving a bus crash and an electrical charge that killed five other people, Dr. Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds, The Raven) offers him a home and an opportunity for employment as an assistant in the scientific research field. But it’s Dr. Rigas (Lionel Atwill) who is really interested in Dan. Soon, Dan becomes a guinea pig in a series of experiments that leave him an electrically charged zombie.
Taking a mere three weeks to film, it would be the cheapest movie made by Universal in 1941. Upon its rerelease, it would be renamed The Atomic Monster. Whatever the title, I’ve always enjoyed this little gem. At 59 minutes, it also remains one of the shortest Universal Horror films. I particularly enjoyed Hinds performance as he always seems to come across as a fatherly figure, the kind who will always give you good advice if not a little conservative. And Atwill turns in a stereotypically great mad doctor performance.
Man Made Monster is available as part of the Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive DVD set. At less than $20, the set offers five lesser-known Universal flicks in addition to some Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. It is well worth the investment and addition to your collection.
Back on Sunday with some old school Bela Lugosi!