Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and his “31 More Days of British Horror” in May, Jules is travelling across the pond this July with… you guessed it… 31 Days of American Horror!
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Lionel Atwill
Before both their names would be inexorably linked with The Wolf Man for the rest of time, director George Waggner and Lon Chaney Jr (making his horror debut no less) got together for something a bit more forward-thinking than folk tales.
Man-Made Monster looks and feels more like a ’50s sci-fi horror than the gothic horror that was still a way off its sell-by date at the time, a fact not lost on RealArt Pictures who re-released the film in 1953 under the title The Atomic Monster on a double bill with 1950’s The Flying Saucer.
Sure, there had been modern-day mad scientist films already, but there’s something gloriously atomic age about seeing a glowing man in a futuristic suit stomp about zapping anyone unlucky enough to get in his path…
When a carnival bus crashes into a power line, the only survivor is Dan McCormick (Lon Chaney Jr), aka “Dynamo Dan, The Electrical Man, who has a natural immunity to electricity. This freak accident brings him to the attention of the good-hearted Dr Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds) who wants to find out the cause of Dan’s strange abilities, but he also has an assistant, the insane Dr Rigas (Lionel Atwill) who wants to exploit him to create “the worker of the future”, an electrically powered human drone. The problem is, he kills anyone and anything he touches…
It’s not even an hour long, but there’s plenty going on in Man Made Monster. Right from that opening and extremely effective bus crash (seriously, how good is it?), it rarely lets up in its ability to entertain and a large part of that is down to a certain Mr. Chaney.
This would be the start of a long and successful (for the most part) career in horror films for the son of the Man of a Thousand Faces, but he very quickly established his own thing and you can see it right here. Less versatile as his old dad, Chaney Jr’s appeal would come from his everyman charm, a loveable big lug who could be the man next door, albeit one who turned into a wolf when the moon was bright or, as in this case, was a living dynamo of deadly electric power.
He looks marvellous too, that custom-built suit giving him a very futuristic, atomic-age style, while his glowing head and hands is quite horrific in its way, giving the feeling that the raging electrical currents aren’t just coursing through him, but literally tearing him apart.
He’s a victim obviously (aren’t all man-made monsters?), but even Frankenstein’s poor old monster didn’t have such a barking mad creator as Dr. Riga and you couldn’t ask for anyone better to bring him to (larger than) life than Lionel Atwill. No stranger to a moustache twirl or a scenery chew, he’s one of those rare actors who could turn it up to 11 but still not take you out of the story and he’s on top form here as usual.
By the time Dan properly goes on the rampage you can totally empathise with his need for revenge, partly through Chaney’s likeableness and partly through how rotten Atwill is, but it’s well-realised too, with Dan cutting a menacing figure, crackling with energy from his head and hands.
Man-Made Monster is an entertaining romp, nothing more, nothing less. It’s important though, as it sets up a partnership that would create one of the defining characters of horror cinema only a few months later…
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy