How to Make a Monster (1958)

HowToMakeAMonsterPosterThey are the greatest (teenage) monsters in the history of the silver screen. They’ve appeared in countless (one each) classic thrillers. They launched the careers of some of the biggest names in show business history (Michael Landon and some other guys you’ve never heard of). And now, after years (well – one year) in the making these classic monsters finally clash in the greatest, no holds barred, monster mash up ever filmed! (Okay, they never actually fight each other, but they do talk with one another out of make up!)

How To Make A Monster taunts us with the promise that all those Universal monster team-up movies like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula delivered, but what this one ultimately delivers is a murder melodrama headlined not by teenaged terrors, but by a disgruntled movie studio employee!

Sure, it was the make up artist of 25 years and not someone like the caterer or the gaffer, but when you’ve got not only Teenage Werewolf at your disposal, but also Teenage Frankenstein and most of the movie centers around the old, portly, creepy, and worst of all – bald, make up artist, I can’t help but think some opportunities were missed.

Ever worse, of all the American International monsters, the greatest of them all, the Saucer-Men from Invasion of the Saucer-Men, only appear in the form of a mask at the make up guy’s house!

Pete is the long time make up guy at American International and he exists only for his work. He sees the monsters he creates as his children and spends pretty much all his waking hours on the studio lot working on his craft, assisted by the standard issue wimpy assistant Rivero.

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The picture he’s currently working on is one were Teenage Frankenstein meets up with Teenage Werewolf, a pretend sequel to American International’s I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

To make your head spin even further, Gary Conway who played Teenage Frankenstein in the original is back as the actor who is playing Teenage Frankenstein in this movie, though he is not playing himself since his character is named Tony. Even though he is basically playing himself. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Michael Landon did not return as Teenage Werewolf.

Pete’s problems begin (well, the problems that involve him having people bumped off, not the problems of him thinking his masks are his children) when new owners of the studio arrive and announce that the monster cycle is done. People want singing and dancing and laughing, not scary teenage imitations of old time monsters. Thus, they are going to have to let Pete and his assistant go.

Pete, being unhealthily obsessed with his job, is determined to get some measure of revenge for having his reason to live taken away. He does what any of us would do in this situation. He uses his super-duper make up that is specially engineered to put people in his power to get the actors playing Teenage Frankenstein and Teenage Werewolf to kill the people who are ruining his life.

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For those of you hoping for lots of Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein action, you’re going to be a tad let down with this one. You get both monsters in make up for about two scenes and that’s it. (Is it strange that I spent most of the movie confused as to why Teenage Frankenstein was shown with his icky face when all us Teenage Frankenstein fans know that he had gotten a face transplant in his last film and ended up looking like actor Gary Conway?)

However, you fans of Pete the make up guy will find yourselves returning to view this one again and again. You get all the Pete (and Rivero) action you could ever hope for.

When Pete isn’t making up the actors into monsters and sending them out on their kill missions, he’s being questioned by studio security, by the police at the studio, and by the police at the police station. For a guy who thought he had the perfect plan, he was being harassed by the fuzz before the first stiff had time to cool!

The beauty of Pete though was that throughout him being under the umbrella of suspicion he never wavered in his belief that nobody had anything on him. I like a guy with self-confidence, no matter how misplaced it may be.

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I can’t say I was real certain what Pete’s ultimate goal was; whether he thought he was going to somehow get his job back by killing the new guys or whether he was going for a straight up revenge plot, but he suddenly stopped his murderous rampage and invited the actors to his house for a little party.

This allows the actors to compare notes and figure out that a guy who calls a room full of monster masks a “cathedral” may have been sniffing the spirit gum for too many years. One accidental house fire later and the movie abruptly ends.

If you have to wring every last drop of Teenage Frankenstein and Teenage Werewolf out of the cinema, then you cannot miss this movie. If you love movies that begin in black and white and end in color for no reason, you must seek this out! (See also I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and War of the Colossal Beast.)

And if you loved this self-referential affair, then be sure to check out American International’s excellent hipsters-in-a-haunted-house classic Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. That one did not feature a disgruntled guy who made up people to be monsters wreaking havoc, but a disgruntled guy who played the monsters wreaking havoc. And the Saucer-Men had a cameo in that one as well!

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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