Mark says: Scripted by Aben Kandel (here as “Kenneth Langtry”) and producer Herman Cohen, this follow up to I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, follows a tried formula: An unbalanced adult manipulates a teenage youth (or, in this case, youths) to do his nefarious bidding (see Blood of Dracula for a female version of this theme).
In the case of How to Make a Monster, the dominating adult is disgruntled make-up man, Pete Dumond, played by Robert H. Harris. Pete finds himself out of work after 25 years as the studio’s head monster creator. Harris comes off as slightly eccentric at the outset of the story. However, as the movie advances, Pete’s eccentricity gives way to creepiness, until he gradually flakes out completely by the film’s conclusion. Pete’s teenage patsies are Gary Clarke (Missle to the Moon) in the role of Larry Drake, and Gary Conway (who I will always fondly remember as Capt. Steve Burton in TV’s Land of the Giants) as Tony Mantell.
The (mildly) interesting twist to How to Make a Monster, is that it’s a movie within a movie. Instead of turning the youths into actual monsters, as the adults did in the earlier teenage monster flicks, Pete simply hypnotizes the actors who are playing monsters. Pete mesmerizes the boys with the aid of a special agent he adds to the make-up. He then commands the teenagers to kill the studio executives who threw him out of work. Monster fans will readily recognize the creatures as the teenage werewolf (Gary Clarke) and the teenage Frankenstein (Gary Conway). Gary Conway played teenage Frankenstein in the earlier movie, but Gary Clarke is new to the role of teenage werewolf (Michael Landon played the monster in the original film).
Unfortunately, the novelty of the film-within-a-film angle is not enough to carry the picture. The movie is more of a murder melodrama than an honest to goodness monster flick, and the details of the investigation grow tiresome. That’s not to say there aren’t some enjoyable scenes. One of my favorite sequences is when Gary Clarke, made up as the werewolf, attacks the first studio executive, John Nixon, played by Eddie Marr (Indestructible Man, I Was A Teenage Werewolf). It’s not that the scene is particularly frightening, but Gary Clarke generates so much drool that it elicits equal amounts of amusement and disgust. Mr. Clarke recalls the scene during an interview in Scary Monsters Magazine (Issue 28, 1998):
I remember the actor [Eddie Marr] asking me to be sure not to mess up his suit. (laughs) The director, Herb Strock, came up to me and said, ‘We want this to be good, Gary. It is the high point of the film, so really give it to him, (laughs) but don’t hurt him.’ I think the scene turned out pretty good. I shook him all over the place, and I slobbered all over him, too. I guess he got a new suit out of it.
In an earlier scene, AIP does some self-promotion. When a tour group gets off a bus, the guide announces that they are in luck because the big scene of Horrors of the Black Museum is being filmed. Black Museum really was in production at the time, but it was being filmed in the UK, not the Hollywood studios where this movie takes place.
The final scene also deserves mention. As investigators close in on Pete and his sniveling assistant, Rivero (Paul Brinegar, who you’ll most likely recognize as “Wishbone” from the Rawhide television series), they take the two boys to Pete’s house for a final “celebration.” The last eight minutes of the film are in color. This adds a bit of novelty to the picture, but not much else. More interestingly, we discover that Pete’s walls are decorated with several masks and monster props created by true life monster maker/ actor, Paul Blaisdell. Monster aficionados will easily recognize the creatures from She-Creature, It Conquered the World, and Invasion of the Saucer Men. In the climatic scene of the film, Pete’s museum goes up in flames.
The fire scene is reminiscent of 1953’s House of Wax, with close-ups of the melting masks, and Pete, now obviously insane, referring to his creations as his “children.” Reportedly, many of Blaisdell’s creations were actually destroyed or badly damaged during the fire.
Though How to Make a Monster has its moments, and possesses some schlocky charm, it lacks the punch of its predecessors. It doesn’t help that the movie features an obnoxious musical number, You Gotta Have Eo-Ooo, performed by John Ashley, right in the middle of the story. This type of song and dance is a common feature in Cohen productions, but seems particularly misplaced in this picture and slows down an already dragging pace.
Look for B-movie regulars Morris Ankrum (Invaders from Mars, Zombies of Mora Tau) and Thomas Browne Henry (Beginning of the End, The Brain from Planet Arous) as Police Capt. Hancock and Director Martin Brace, respectively.
How to Make a Monster featured the memorable tagline, “It will scare the living yell out of you!”
Directed by Herbert L. Strock (Blood of Dracula, The Crawling Hand).
Scene to watch for: Old Pete has a heart to heart with posters from I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.
Line to listen for: “You’ll be back in all your glory. One picture can do it. Maybe one of those foreign imports, and the whole monster cycle is on its way again.”
Bonus: Check out the fantastic poster art at Wrong Side of the Art.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.