If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.
So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Starring: Evelyn Ankers, John Carradine, Milburn Stone, Acquanetta
Universal had long established themselves as the masters of classy, big budget horror films, but there’s a noticeable point where you can see them attempt to wet their beak in the “cheap, disposable quicky” market of horror too.
Coming a year after their-now nearest rivals RKO released the astonishing Cat People, Captive Wild Woman is an entirely different animal. While it’s *ahem* inspiration was a subtle, beguiling and at times utterly chilling masterpiece with a love triangle at it’s heart, this effort is a clunky, ludicrous and completely daft if enjoyable time-waster, though it does remember to have the love triangle in there somewhere. It also has a gorilla being turned into an attractive young lady, brain transplants and a ridiculous amount of circus footage from another film.
Fred Mason (Milburn Stone)is an animal trainer returning from his latest safari with a horde of animals for his employer John Whipple (Lloyd Corrigan), owner of the Whipple Circus, with the biggest find being Cheela (Ray Corrigan), a gorilla with noticeably human mannerisms.
Upon his return, his girlfriend Beth Colman (Evelyn Ankers) tells him of the recent health problems encountered by her sister Dorothy (Martha MacVicar) and how she is now residing Crestview Sanatorium for treatment, under the care of Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine).
There’s more to the Doctor than it seems though, as he had secretly been experimenting on animals, transplanting glands between species and arranges for Cheela to be stolen to order, before transplanting the brain off his assistant Miss Strand (Fay Helm) into the unfortunate creature. The result is remarkable, transforming the ape into an attractive young woman (Acquanetta) who he names Paula Dupree.
The newly created woman is mute, but forms an attraction to Mason after saving him from a big cat attack, but the jungle is still within her and it’s not long before her animal instincts are threatening to break out…
In the scale of mad scientist plans and their reactions, this has got to be quite near the top (or bottom) of the insane scale. Who knew switching a gorilla’s brain with a woman’s will physically transform the beast into a completely new entity? One that’s not a gorilla with a new brain, but a lovely lady instead? Bonkers. Then obviously it can start to wear off, meaning you get done kind of in-between were-ape thing going on too.
It’s barking mad, but that’s entirely why Captive Wild Woman works. It knows it’s off it’s head and just runs with it.
Making his horror debut, John Carradine is on delicious form as the maddest of scientists. He’s sublimely slippery; a creepy, slimy maniac who will kill anyone and anything in pursuit of his “science” and the actor clearly relished the part, chewing the scenery with glee in every scene. It’s a one-dimensional role (how could it be anything else?), but Carradine makes the most of it and delivers a top class bit of gloriously sinister moustache-twirling.
As the eponymous Captive Wild Woman, Acquanetta is more reminiscent of Lota in Island Of Lost Souls than Cat People’s Irina, being a sultry, animalistic and very quiet presence. Her sexuality is never far from the surface, with her attraction to Mason fuelling her more violent impulses, but there is a feeling that she would have been more effective if she had anything to say for herself.
Ludicrous plot aside, the main issues with this one is the combination of a completely flat leading man and the very obvious body doubles used every time he has to get close to a tiger or lion, which is a fair bit alas. Those circus scenes are troubling too, big just because they’re clearly crowbarred in from another film (and even with so many the runtime is barely an hour), but that the footage of big cats being shot at, whipped and attacking each other is quite upsetting. It was a different time obviously, but watching animals being mistreated never makes for enjoyable viewing.
Captive Wild Woman isn’t a great film. It’s not even a particularly good one, but it’s got enough far-out ideas to make it an enjoyable one.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy