Long on atmosphere, short on logic and generally a lot of fun—either despite or because of one of the dumbest werewolf make-up designs ever—The Man and the Monster (1959) is fairly typical of Mexican horror films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. For years, these movies were given short shrift because they were mostly known in their truncated, badly dubbed versions shown on TV. In recent years, however, we’ve started to see decent prints in their original language. If they aren’t exactly a revelation, they’re a lot better than originally thought—and, as far as I’m concerned, much better than most Euro-horror. The films started because actor-producer Abel Salazar decided he could cash in on the Universal horror pictures. (OK, so he came up with this notion pretty late in the day.) That’s what he aimed for—often, as here, casting himself as the hero—and if what he ended up with often had more in common with 1940s Monogram than Universal, it was still a game try, and certainly an entertaining one. (Considering his 1957 production The Vampire—the film that started it all—lifted part of its plot from the 1942 Monogram film The Corpse Vanishes, it seems unlikely that Salazar was unaware of those movies.)
This one wasn’t directed by the undoubtedly more talented Fernando Mendez (who made the best of the films), but by Rafael Baledón, who did a credible job—which suggests that Salazar had as much to do with the atmosphere as the director. The story is an interesting—if not entirely coherent—take on the werewolf movie. In this case, a mediocre pianist (Enrique Rambal) sells his soul to the devil in order to become the world’s greatest pianist. The catch is that he murders the previous greatest pianist (Martha Roth), takes her corpse home and plays to her, which in turn turns him into a werewolf. In fact, this transformation happens whenever he plays or hears a certain piece of music. As you may imagine this is a significant drawback that disconcerts his mother (Ofelia Guilmáin)—and her black cat that’s forever leaping out of her arms (with the apparent aid of a string). Great? No, but it’s certainly entertaining—and with moments of truly inspired atmosphere.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Man and the Monster on Thursday, May 24, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.