“A doctor reanimates the corpse of his mad scientist grandfather, THEN figures out it was a bad idea!”
Even for the dedicated genre movie fan like myself, Jerry Warren movies are often a challenge to watch, and few of them warrant repeat viewings. His actual ‘movie’ movies are better than his imports, although I know I’m getting into a dangerous area if I note that his cheap yeti movie Man Beast wasn’t bad (though it probably remains his best work).
Risking even more attack from my fellow B movie fans is that I admit to enjoying the tepid The Incredible Petrified World, if for no other reason than I dig the cast. I enjoyed Teenage Zombies because stuff was happening in that one.
Frankenstein Island is just too goofy not to enjoy on some level (and the version I have doesn’t even feature some of the wacky elements mentioned in Ken’s review -such as the plastic trident turning one woman into some sort of monster- which leads me to believe there’s more than one version of the film!).
Beyond that, however, I find it hard to muster much praise for Jerry Warren. Except, maybe, to note that, like Sam Sherman, Warren must have known what he was doing. His patchwork anti-epics became drive-in standards and it seems obvious he made some profits (not that it would be hard to do, given his cheaply he made his films).
Warren’s real movies were often murky and listless, but his imported movies are what he really remains known (and despised) for! When it comes to imported Mexican horror films, Jerry Warren and K. Gordon Murray are the names that spring to mind.
K. Gordon Murray scooped up seemingly hundreds of Mexican and German genre and kiddie films and released them to American theaters (to, it must be admitted, generally good box-office) and television. Murray’s films are noted for being directly translated from the original language scripts, resulting in some odd and often rushed spoken lines and songs.
Warren, on the other hand, did everything he could to get around dubbing. He tended to rely on narration from one of his characters, often describing the very scenes we’re watching. If he couldn’t cut out a scene the plot required that featured characters having a conversation, he’d leave it in silent and have the narration tell us what the conversation was about!
To fill in the screen time missing from the excised footage, Warren would shoot new scenes of characters reportedly related to the original film. If a monster was on the loose, a new segment could be worked in showing the police department talking over the case and filling us in on whatever happened off screen because Warren’s cuts to the original film removed something important. (Here, for example, a girl suddenly pops up and a half hour later we learn who she is when the American footage shows her friend coming to the police to report her missing.)
These scenes are noted for their static camera angles and endless yakking from peripheral characters. I believe the liner notes for Invasion of the Animal People (SWV release on double bill with the original Swedish version Terror in the Midnight Sun, which isn’t a bad little movie) described Warren’s films as being an alternation of scenes with people saying too little with scenes of people saying too much. That’s a pretty apt description of a Jerry Warren import, they change pace in such a way as to make them uncomfortable to watch.
One can see what attracted Jerry to the source movie for Creature of the Walking Dead. It has a fairly simple and easy to follow plot. It features long periods without dialog. It has handsome production values for a Mexican movie, featuring some impressive sets, good monster make-up, and some unusually fluid camera work. (There are a few scenes that look SO polished as to make me think they were pulled from yet another movie, since we don’t see the faces of any cast members.)
While repetitive, the music is also pretty impressive for something like this. Who knows. Had Warren simply had the film dubbed and released as is, it might have been a pretty decent pic. Then again, there would have been plenty of goofy elements left over. We can’t blame all the film’s silliness on Warren, although he does his part!
In short, a turn of the century scientist, Dr. Malthus, has developed a means of prolonging his own life and youth by means of blood transfusion experiments where he removes the blood of attractive women and has the blood pumped into his own heart.
The authorities finally catch him (apparently on tax evasion or something, since they never find his secret lab or the victims he is holding there!) and sentence him to hang. In the 20th Century, the monster’s grandson, another Dr. Malthus, inherits the old estate. In a nice touch, there have been legal disputes over the property to explain why no one has entered the structure since 1881.
Younger Malthus finds the old lab and his grandpappy’s notebooks. Infected with scientific curiosity after reading these notes, he breaks into the local crypt and makes off with the mummified body of his ancestor and then brings him back to life using the transfusion machine.
Too late, Younger Malthus sees the folly of his actions. Too bad for him that the Elder Malthus looks just like him and takes his place in society, even wooing Younger Malthus’ fiancee, Ruth! The only way to tell who is who, is that Elder Malthus has a scar on his neck from the hangman’s rope and must wear an ascot (a plot thread that really doesn’t go anywhere, at least in Warren’s version).
Whenever the transfused blood begins to break down, Elder Malthus turns into a monster-y fellow and must find a new victim to lock in the dungeon where he is housing Younger Malthus. Eventually, Ruth finds herself Elder Malthus’ chosen victim…..
The Warren touch in action:
- Our lead actor has been renamed “Rock Madison.” This name was given to one of the minor actors in Man Beast, who was then given top billing! It has been suggested Warren came up with the name to cash in on the popularity of Rock Hudson and Guy Madison. Odd that he would only use the name twice, once in 1956 and again in 1964.
- Katherine Victor has been given a scene in some of the new footage. Here she plays a psychic who tries to help the police find the missing girls. (I think, since there’s another small part that could be her as well, and a really terrible actress plays Dr. Malthus’ secretary in an added clip. All three are brunettes who look slightly similar and it’s been a while since I’ve watched a Katherine Victor movie. Since she was married to Warren for a spell, it seems I heard, I assume she has the larger part here.) This subplot eats up some running time but adds nothing and goes nowhere.
- Visible jumps in the action due to removed dialog. In the flashback sequence, Dr. Malthus is about to give himself a transfusion when he hears a knock at the door. He leaves the room. Upstairs, he is hauled away by the police without incident. If you’ve watched enough movies you can tell they’ve snipped a bit where the authorities confront Malthus with the goods they have on him and he calmly admits to his sins. (The woman providing the transfusion, by the way, is left to die. Younger Malthus later finds her dried corpse on the operating table. More disturbing is that the dungeon contains the remains of three young women who starved to death in their cells!)
After bringing home Elder Malthus’ corpse, Younger Malthus suddenly has a young woman on the other table acting as blood donor. She pops up from nowhere, and only after the operation when the sheet covering her is removed do we learn that she is the maid. One assumes she is Dr. Malthus’ live-in maid, but then we learn in another added scene that she commutes to work from like a block away. All the abductions will take place within the same general area, so neither Malthus comes off as a criminal mastermind. The lab also mysteriously cleans itself once Younger Malthus decides to use it.
- Our first exposition scene features Bruno VeSota. The acting in this scene is pretty good, but we watch the camera hold position for the longest time as we watch him receive a massage which is limited to his left shoulder. Its the cinematic equivalent of a stare-down contest. By the way, Bruno doesn’t have his mustache in this one. He looks better with the lip cover, we discover.
- Almost every dubbed line is spoken when someone has their back turned or is off camera.
- Almost every synced line is spoken in blandly framed new footage.
- There are visible lines spoken in the original Mexican version that are seen here minus sound.
- There are dubbed in lines over people who clearly aren’t speaking.
- There are a couple of scenes showing people engaged in conversations where its obvious whats going on, yet everything is filled in via narration. Said narration is often breathlessly rushed to match the beats where the same information would be if it were a normal dialog scene. The effect is so surreal it makes your head hurt. (By the way, the last few points should drive home the fact that when people say something about bad dubbing in an old Godzilla movie, they should more rightly be referencing a Jerry Warren import. Prior to the International prints that got released in the 70′s, most Godzilla movies enjoyed very slick professional dubbing, most often from Titra sound studios. They never would have let anything as sloppy as this get released.
-The American distributors dubbed over their own Jap imports because the international dubs were so bad. Let us be thankful that Warren was never the domestic distributor for a Godzilla movie! It would seem the Mexican stuff came cheaper.)
- A 70 minute movie feels like three hours.
To my amazement, “Malthus” didn’t set off the spellchecker, but the abbreviation “Jap” did!
Rock Baker is a professional comic book artist and placed silver in the Most Interesting Man Alive contest.