Terror Is A Man, 1959

Got to like the admittedly derivative premise. Actually, the concept of a mad scientist working on a monster in an isolated setting isn’t unique to Dr. Moreau. It’s the basic plot of many horror movies/stories. Islands and their natives are suitably interchangeable with castles and villagers. No sooner are we introduced to the island than we get a peek at the monster. Also, the shipwrecked inquisitive ‘outsider’ Fitzgerald (Richard Derr) kick-starts the plot.

A key feature of this sort of movie is the scientist’s role; is he merely evil, deranged, or some creepy combination? This guy, Dr. Girard (Francis Lederer), is neither. He’s an apparently decent guy who gets in over his head (ok, obsessed) with ye olde de luxe science kit, enabling him to “alter certain functions” of an unlucky panther. Fitzgerald soon sneaks a look at the lab; finding Girard and his wife Frances (Greta Thyssen) giving the panther-man a tune-up. Another mad scientist movie plot device is employed here: the ‘outsider’ trying to get the unwilling/frightened scientist’s helper/spouse to turn the tables. Then there’s the ‘loose-cannon’ underling guy Walter (Oscar Perrera) who’s stuck with Girard, but feels marginalized and is somewhat envious and disdainful. He’s got his own angle on Frances.

It’s kind of odd that Fitzgerald accepts all of this Dr. Frankenstein stuff for almost the entire movie, as though Girard were talking about tadpoles or fossils. Fitzgerald even knows that villagers have been killed by the monster. He seems much more interested in Frances than anything else. There’s almost enough here for an actual romantic melodrama; but none of the seduction subplot really adds to the main plot. It’s not long before Girard is showing off the monster to Fitzgerald, to the point of enlisting his assistance. That makes all the major characters compromised. We see that Walter is the ‘real’ bad guy: he’s not just hustling Frances and bad-mouthing the others, but makes the cardinal sin of getting the monster mad at him. Of course, he can’t hold a candle to the monster’s Frankenstein-ish blend of strength and innocence; so he holds a torch to it.

That sequence begins with yet another device of the genre: beauty protected by the beast. Now, pretty much scraping the bottom of the Pandora’s Box of cliches, we get some world domination junk from Girard–the ‘race of superior men’ deal; “not for myself, for…humanity.” Although most of the sci-fi and mad scientist genre elements blend in pretty well, it’s straining suspension of disbelief too far to credit an ambition of more than local significance. Referring back to the ‘historical’ mythic vampire, their habitat is specific–to the extent of packing a little local sod to keep things homey while abroad. There is the more modern trend, though, for the monsters/creatures to invest every nook and cranny of earth (I.e., Invasion Of The Body Snatchers). Here, there’s just one mutant/monster, but he does get wanderlust.

The monster itself isn’t too badly done; but he has less visual impact than he could have, since he’s usually in pre-op or post-op bandages. More of a mummy than anything else. I thought the ending worked–the panther-man wants to escape with Frances, failing that, he actually does escape. That’s different. Complicit with the monster’s still-intact naive reputation (murders notwithstanding), the kid on the beach actually helps him into the boat. I kind of hoped Walter would get it and not Girard–makes you wonder then who’s going to ‘get’ the suddenly-widowed Frances.

Terror Is A Man satisfies in a primordial sense, like reading a cereal box with your midnight snack. 5/10.

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