Friday, October 20, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Disinvited from the Monster Mash

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Meet the monsters who didn't make it into House of Frankenstein.


Having successfully crossed over a couple of their monsters with the 1943 film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Universal set out to make a major monster mash with '44's House of Frankenstein. There ended up being a lot of creatures and familiar types of characters in the film - Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, a mad scientist played by Boris Karloff, a hunchbacked assistant... but during the development, Universal had considered adding even more characters to the monster mash, including the Invisible Man and the titular character from their film The Mad Ghoul.

Getting disinvited from the monster mash really had an impact on The Mad Ghoul, as he ended up never being in another movie beyond the one that introduced him, and his movie has kind of faded into obscurity.

Directed by James Hogan from a screenplay by Brenda Weisberg and Paul Gangelin (Hans Kraly came up with the story), the film centers on chemistry professor Dr. Alfred Morris (George Zucco), who has replicated a poisonous gas that was used by the Mayans to create "death in life, or life in death". While testing the gas on animals, Morris enlists his student Ted Allison (David Bruce) to assist him... but Morris has an ulterior motive in doing this.

Morris is infatuated with Ted's girlfriend Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers), who is a musician. Morris believes that Isabel deserves to be with a man who's more sophisticated and can share her appreciation for music. She needs a more experienced man, and Morris certainly fits that bill; Zucco was more than thirty years older than Ankers. Morris shares his theory with Isabel, and she agrees - she's trying to figure out how she can break up with Ted and let him down easily.

Morris doesn't reveal that he wants to be Isabel's ideal guy, which is for the best because she already has her sights on another fellow: piano player Eric Iverson (Turhan Bey).

The gas causes physical changes to anything that's dosed with it, bringing about the appearance of emaciation, while wiping out the subject's will. Morris has decided to get Ted out of his way by dosing his assistant with the gas, turning him into the ghoul of the title, a zombie-like creature that needs human hearts to survive. By consuming hearts, Ted can revert to his normal self, with only a foggy memory of what he has done while in the ghoulish state. The effect doesn't last long, however, and Ted is soon a ghoul again.

While in the ghoulish state, Ted will do anything Morris orders him to do, and of course once Morris finds out about Isabel's interest in Eric he decides to send his pet zombie after this fourth player in the love square situation. This leads to my favorite scene in the movie, where the ghoul is given a gun to shoot Ted with. Nothing happens in that moment, but it's made great in the moment by Hogan's choice to show the ghoul's gun-wielding shadow walking up behind Ted.

The Mad Ghoul isn't a great film, nor is the ghoul himself a very interesting creature. It's clear to see why this movie isn't as popular as some of the other Universal films of the era, and why the ghoul didn't reach icon status. It really wouldn't have added much to House of Frankenstein if a ghoul had been included. The title character is overshadowed in his own movie by Morris, with Zucco's performance making the professor come off as a cold and calculating creep.

That said, The Mad Ghoul isn't a bad film, either. It's a perfectly serviceable standalone horror picture with an interesting enough story to sustain its 65 minute running time. It didn't need to be anything more, or to lead to something else. It's fine as it is and makes for an enjoyable watch.


Another character Universal considered putting in House of Frankenstein was the Ape Woman of director Edward Dmytryk's Captive Wild Woman. Written by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher from a story by Ted Fithian and Neil P. Varnick, this is another film about a mad scientist - in this case legendary character actor John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters, a man who specializes in glandular issues. No longer content to simply help patients, Walters has decided to start doing some wacky experiments, placing glands from one species into the body of a different animal. He combines a frog and a mouse, a rabbit and a guinea pig. The animals the glands are taken from die, but those are sacrifices Walters is willing to make in the name of mad science. The ones the glands are put into are physically transformed.

The filmmakers were willing to endanger the well-being of animals themselves. The film revolves around a circus where most of the characters work, and which is planning to do a show featuring lions and tigers together. Things go wrong, a lion and a tiger fight, we see the fight on camera and this was something that was purposely arranged for the movie. I don't condone that.

One of Walters' latest patients is circus performer Dorothy Colman (Martha Vickers), who has been dropping weight and recently collapsed. Since we see Dorothy being left in Walters' care at the Crestview Sanatorium by her sister Beth (Evelyn Ankers) and she works at the circus, I figured she would become the title character, but that wasn't to be. It was actually the opposite of what I expected - it's an ape who becomes a person, not a person who becomes an ape.

The Whipple Circus has just acquired a giant gorilla, which is clearly a performer (Ray Corrigan) wearing a gorilla costume. Walters has the gorilla stolen from the circus so he can transfuse some of Dorothy's glandular secretions into the creature. The result is our captive wild woman: Cheela the gorilla takes on a human female form, and just to make sure she won't be too animalistic Walters goes full Frankenstein and performs a brain transplant, putting a human brain into the ape woman's head. How does he get a brain? By killing his assistant. And that's not the first person Walters kills during this experiment. He is very dedicated.

Mononymous actress Acquanetta plays Cheela's human form, a woman Walters names Paula Dupree. She doesn't speak, but she lands a job at the circus when Beth's boyfriend Fred Mason (Milburn Stone), the lion and tiger tamer, notices that she has some kind of sway over the animals. They fear her, making it easier for Fred to work with them. All the role really requires of Acquanetta is that she stare at things wide-eyed, and there is an effective intensity to the looks she gives, while she has an overall ethereal screen presence.

Paula seems to have found her place in the world, but who wants to watch a movie about an ape turning into a woman and becoming an animal trainer? There are horrific details to deal with her, like the fact that Dorothy will die if Walters keeps sapping her glands so Paula can retain her human form. Paula will begin to revert back into an ape when she experiences strong emotion, and some of that strong emotion is felt when Paula becomes violently jealous after she sees Fred with Beth. She decides she needs to get this other woman out of the way.

Captive Wild Woman is a pretty entertaining movie overall, although I didn't appreciate how the lions and tigers were handled. The climax is also problematic - the story just sort of peters out. Cheela / Paula changes her view on her situation very quickly, and then the movie is over before you know it. Even though I like that these classic movies have such short running times, this one could have benefited from being longer than 60 minutes, because some things needed to be expanded in the climax. It feels rushed.


Not being in House of Frankenstein may have killed The Mad Ghoul's momentum, but the Ape Woman didn't suffer the same fate. Despite being excluded from that film and never crossing paths with her fellow Universal monsters, the Ape Woman still managed to have a franchise of her own.

It took three writers (Bernard Schubert, Henry Sucher, and Edward Dein) to craft the story of the Ape Woman's first sequel, but when you watch Jungle Woman it doesn't seem like they had to do too much work. The structure of their story helped save director Reginald LeBorg some time, too. The film has a running time of just 61 minutes, but the first 17 minutes are largely taken up by stock footage from the previous film, catching viewers up on what happened in Captive Wild Woman.

We're given a new perspective on the ending of the first movie with the introduction of J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Carl Fletcher, a man who was in the audience that night at Whipple Circus when the police shot down Cheela the ape. Fletcher acquires the body of Cheela, who turns out to still be alive, and is so intrigued by the beast that even goes so far as to buy Crestview Sanatorium, where the mad scientist of the previous movie conducted his experiments that turned Cheela into the human female Paula Dupree. Returning character Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) shows up long enough to add something else to Cheela / Paula's back story: even before he took Cheela out of the jungle in Africa, there were rumors that this particular gorilla was the result of an experiment by a mad scientist who had turned a human into an ape. So this poor thing just keeps being passed from mad scientist to mad scientist. She started as a person, got turned into an ape by a mad scientist, then got turned back into a person by another one. What are the chances?

Fletcher isn't as mad as his predecessors, he doesn't have any nefarious intentions, he is just fascinated by the idea of an ape woman, as anyone would be.

Soon enough Cheela has regained her health and reverted to the form of Paula, again played by Acquanetta. Paula evolves a bit in this sequel, gaining the ability to speak. But she still has that issue of falling for unobtainable men. This time she becomes obsessed with Bob Whitney (Richard Davis), the fiancé of Fletcher's daughter Joan (Lois Collier), and since she can speak now she doesn't just need to use ape strength to try to get to him. Now she can lie and manipulate.

The ape woman just wants a boyfriend. Maybe she should have been included in House of Frankenstein after all, so she would have a shot at finding love with one of her fellow monsters. She and the wolf man could have made wolf-ape babies... Sounds like the origin of sasquatch.

Jungle Woman is a step down in quality from Captive Wild Woman. The story isn't as interesting and the speaking Paula doesn't come off as well as the mute Paula of the previous movie did. I would question Acquanetta's performance, but maybe the awkward line deliveries were on purpose, since she's playing a speaking ape.

It's clear that Universal was perfectly fine with Jungle Woman being a step down, since they must have made it for a lower budget. The new scenes are in confined locations, and you might notice that we never actually see new footage of Cheela the ape, nor does Paula undergo the ape woman transformation on screen. This movie only shows Paula in her regular human form, except for one shot - perhaps so it could be called a creative decision rather than a budgetary one. Other than that, it tells us about these things, but doesn't show them. Because who wants to pay for those special effects and prosthetics again?


The third and final film in the Ape Woman franchise is also the longest, coming in at a whopping 63 minutes long. Directed by Harold Young from a screenplay by M. Coates Webster and Dwight V. Babcock, it gets started off on a rather mysterious note, as a strange fellow named Moloch, played by acromegaly-afflicted character actor Rondo Hatton, shows up at the morgue to steal the body of Paula Dupree. He's so determined to leave with her corpse that he kills one person and holds others at gunpoint, and after escaping he switches vehicles and sends the one he drove away from the morgue crashing over the edge of a cliff.

We'll come to learn that Moloch was working for a biochemist named Stendahl (Otto Kruger), who employs lovebirds Don Young (Phil Brown) and Ann Forrester (Amelita Ward) at his biological laboratory. Stendahl has recently had a breakthrough in his endeavor to revive dead animals with electrical currents and blood transfusions, and now he's going to put his findings to the test with Paula's corpse. He's going to bring her back to life... and to do so, he kidnaps Ann so he can forcefully use her for the blood transfusion portion of the revival.

The ape woman is revived at around the halfway point of this movie, once again in the clutches of a mad scientist, one who doesn't mind if people are killed so he can accomplish his scientific goals because lives are unimportant if they might impede progress. This film actually put some of its budget into having Paula go around as the ape woman for a moment, but when Stendahl gets her to return to full human form, you might notice something different about her. Not only has she become mute again after speaking in Jungle Woman, having suffered brain damage from being dead, but she's also played by a different actress. Acquanetta's contract with Universal had run out and for one reason or another (there are different accounts of the parting) they had no interest in working together anymore. But Universal wanted to get another Ape Woman movie out, so they cast Vicky Lane as Paula Dupree.

Even if Acquanetta had been hired to reprise the role, she wouldn't have had much to do. The Paula character is completely wasted here and overshadowed by Stendahl and Moloch. She's not even present enough to become obsessed with another guy.

Somehow the longest Ape Woman movie has the least amount of substance. It's a shrug of a movie, and it's easy to see why this one wasn't successful, bringing the franchise to an end. The best thing about it is the expression on Kruger's face and his line delivery when he shoots a person down and calls them a fool.

It is somewhat surprising, however, that the Ape Woman hasn't been remembered in association with her more iconic monster peers. She got three movies, that's an accomplishment, more than some of the other monsters got and equal with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And it's the same Ape Woman in each film, unlike the Invisible Man franchise, which was always switching lead characters.

Paula Dupree deserves to be remembered!

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