Monster (1953) Monster / The Resuscitated Monster / The Resurrected Monster / The Revived Monster/ El Monstruo Resucitado (1953) -***

     Mexicoís 1930ís horror movie boom was just as short-lived as the ones in the United States and Britain, although the reasons why are obscure to me. Official censorship may have been a factor, as it was in the UK. Certainly plenty of other trends in Mexican cinema had their development deformed by interference from reactionary government administrations, and Iíve never yet heard of a censor that didnít hate horror films. Whatever the cause, however, the end came as a gentle tapering off, rather than a sudden crash. Production remained more or less steady from 1933 until 1940, then slowed to a trickle, finally petering out with the release of The Man Without a Face in 1950. The rebirth, when it came, was similarly gradualó enough so, in fact, that it feels a bit arbitrary to trace it to Monster specifically. After all, there was just as long a lapse in between The Mad Monk and A Macabre Legacy in 1940 and The Specter of the Bride in 1943. The reason I do so anyway basically comes down to the involvement of one man, director Chano Urueta. Although Uruetaís directorial career stretches back to the silent era, he had never made a horror movie prior to Monster. After Monster, however, he became one of the biggest names in the bogeyman business. Indeed, weíve encountered him before, calling the shots on The Brainiac. Urueta brought to his horror pictures a sensibility sharply at odds with that of his predecessors, wild and whimsical and totally unashamed to be garish. If you live outside of Latin America, but have some notion of what Mexican fright films are like, chances are itís Uruetaís style that you have in mind.

     Nora (Miroslava Sternova) is a newspaper reporter living in one of those gothic neverlands familiar from Hollywoodís 30ís and 40ís horror flicks. She canít seem to drum up a story worth reporting on, however, until one evening her editor, Mr. Gherasimos (Fernando Wagner, of Virgin Sacrifice and The Witch), suggests a truly loony idea for a human interest piece. In that dayís paper is an advertisement calling for ďa special companion for a very special man.Ē Other clues in the want ad indicate a grade-A weirdo, and Gherasimos thinks it would be a hoot if Nora answered the ad, ingratiated herself to the man behind it, and wrote up her experiences in his company for the edification of the paperís readership. Nora is sensibly hesitant, but gradually warms to the scheme.

     The first meeting between Nora and Hermann Ling (Jose Maria Linares-Rivas) occurs at 9:00 a few nights later, in a scummy-ass alleyway beside the docks. And as if that werenít reason enough to conclude that the reporter was setting herself up never to be seen again, Ling makes his entrance clad in a black overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, his features further concealed by dark glasses and some sort of improvised mask. Nevertheless, Nora agrees to accompany Ling to his mansionó even though it stands atop a sea cliff, surrounded on the other three sides by an immense old cemetery. More red flags wave themselves insistently in front of her at the house: eerily lifelike wax sculptures of beautiful women scattered all about the first-floor living spaces; a slithering Renfield of a manservant called Mischa (Alberto Mariscal, from Neutron vs. the Maniac and Santo vs. the King of Crime); mirrors covered by tarps adorning most if not all of the walls. Ling shows off his basement laboratory, where he puts the skills he has honed as a sculptor in wax to use in the more challenging medium of human flesh, performing reconstructive surgery on the faces of the deformed and disfigured. If I understood him right (my Spanish is not quite equal to the challenge of Lingís non-stop yakking, even without accounting for how the mask muffles and distorts his voice), he even says something about hoping one day to infuse his wax women with living souls. Also, he talks a lot about how he hates the human race, and women most of all. Ling himself is horrendously malformed, you see, and everyone who ever saw his true face has loathed him on sight. Nora figures this is her chance to show that sheís different, and begs Ling to remove his mask. What she sees once he finally works up the nerve to trust her resembles a talented teenagerís attempt to reverse engineer Lon Chaney Sr.ís Phantom of the Opera makeup using whatever he could find at Rite-Aid for less than $25. Then itís Noraís turn to work up some nerve: she kisses Ling, making him officially the happiest medical curiosity on Earth.

     Lingís happiness does not last long, though, for he canít help following Nora around town spying on her. From a difficult-to-spot table in the restaurant where she meets Gherasimos for dinner, he overhears them talking about the project that led her to answer Hermannís ad in the paper. Furious at the deception, Ling attempts to murder Nora, but ends up strangling the wrong girl by mistake. But perhaps a more elaborate revenge is in order, anyway. Really throwing his back into the idea, the mad freak steals the corpse of recently deceased politician Sergei Rostov (Carlos Navarro, from Revolt of the Ghosts), and resuscitates it by transferring into it the life essence of the ape-man he keeps locked up in the cellar. (And yes, this is in fact the first weíve heard of that.) Somehow the resurrection process results in Rostov becoming a living automaton whom Ling can control via his own brainwaves, and since Hermann already knows Noraís routine from spying on her the past few days, itís a trivial matter to position the remote-control corpse where itís sure to encounter her. Then he can use Rostov to seduce Nora just as Nora seduced him, and when her guard is down, he can make Rostov kidnap her back to the mansion. It isnít at all clear to me just what endgame Ling has in mindó maybe this is his chance to try ensouling one of his wax dummies?ó but the fatal flaw in the plan is a classic. Remember that Rostovís new soul came from an ape-man; remember further that the ape-man has never yet lived who could resist a pretty blonde.

     So for those of you who lost your scorecards, Monster is the movie that dares to ask, what if the Phantom of the Opera, Count Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, Henry Jarrod, Dr. Moreau, and Cyrano de Bergerac were all the same guy? Itís nuts. And thatís before we even consider all the ways in which normal human psychology seems simply not to apply with any of these people. I mean, consider the very starting point of the story: ďHey! How Ďbout we make a public spectacle out of some poor rando by responding to his Ďlonely heartsí want ad in bad faith? Canít you just smell the Pulitzer?Ē With the nominal good guys acting like that, maybe we shouldnít be surprised that Arduino Maiuri, who wrote the treatment from which Urueta developed Monsterís script, went on to be part of the army of writers who worked on Danger: Diabolik. Meanwhile, we have a villain who proclaims simultaneously his unquenchable hatred for humanity and his desire to devote himself to the betterment of same. Lingís assumption that the subject of his burning misogyny makes for good date night conversation can be excused on the grounds that heís supposed to be evil and insane, but thereís no making sense of that other stuff. On the whole, though, Ling isnít half as baffling as Nora. No one could be so shady and conniving while having so little sense of self-preservation. It isnít just all the danger signs she ignores during her date with Ling, either, but also the way she has no guard whatsoever around Rostovó whose death, I hasten to emphasize, was the above-the-fold, front-page headline in her own paper just the day before! Ling doesnít even have his puppet zombie use an alias! (Although he does make a big, retroactively inexplicable deal of redubbing his creature ďArielĒ before never calling him that again.) The really incredible part, though, comes when Rostovís wooing begins directly echoing things that Ling said to Nora that night at his mansionó as well they might, since itís really Ling speaking through the dead manís mouth. Nora notices the quotations. We know she notices, because Miroslava Sternova reacts to them in shock, and because the soundtrack helpfully provides a little musical sting each time. What she does not do is to modify her behavior toward Rostov in any way in response. She just keeps on walking straight into Lingís trap, despite plainly recognizing that a trap it is.

     What interests me most about Monster, though, are all the ways, great and small, in which it reminds me of a slightly later and much better film, The Devilís Commandment. Both pictures brought the horror genre back to life in their respective home countries, and both did so by tossing together elements of seemingly every significant old fright film their creators could think of, regardless of whether any logical connection existed among them. Monster brought Chano Urueta to the fore as a major figure in Mexican horror cinema, just as The Devilís Commandment established Ricardo Freda and Mario Bava in that position in Italy. Monster even includes a recurring outdoor setting that consists largely of a blown-up photograph, although its version of the trick is much cruder and less convincing than Bavaís. These parallels stand out to me partly because of Arduino Maiuriís involvement, but also because the print of Monster that I watched had its opening credits in Italian rather than Spanish. This movie was written from a treatment by an Italian writer; it clearly played at some point in Italy; and it shares noticeable points of commonality with an Italian production from several years later. Frankly, I donít know what it all adds up to, but the clues seem to point toward a link between the two nationsí film industries which I had hitherto assumed to have developed only in the 1980ís. Clearly further investigation is warranted.

 

 

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