The Ape Man (1943) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

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: William Beaudine
Starring:  Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie

If ever an actor deserved better at times, it was Bela Lugosi. While he might be right rightly remembered for the Transylvanian Count that made his name and to a lesser degree impeccable performances in things like The Black Cat and Return Of The Vampire, he’s sadly got a fair amount of dreck on his CV too.

A lot of it comes from his work with Monogram Studios, the Poverty Row outfit who prized quantity over quality, sometimes getting fairly right with things like The Corpse Vanishes, other times… well, coming up with The Ape Man.

Don’t get me wrong, Lugosi never phones it in and he doesn’t here, but he’s wasted in a film like this and the sight of him loping about like an ape with an Amish beard and a sad expression on his face is pretty bleak.

Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal) is a renowned ghost hunter who returns to America to discover that her brother Dr. James Brewster (Bela Lugosi) and his colleague Dr. Randall (Henry Hall) are involved in scientific experiments which have caused Brewster to transform into an ape-man.

When the cure turns out to recently drawn human spinal fluid, the half-ape Brewster resorts to murder, with the aid of his actual gorilla accomplice, but when animal fur is found with the corpses, Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford) and photographer Billie Mason (Louise Currie, a pair of journalists initially following Agatha for a story, begin to put the pieces together…

Hmmm. I’m not averse to murderous ape films, but this is a real slog.

It’s another on the seemingly endless “wisecracking press investigating shady goings on” type of horror that were so prevalent in the era, but what they have to investigate is particularly stupid.

Poor Bela is lumbered with not just a ridiculous look, but a particularly dreadful ape suit to play against, one which he has to have regular primate hierarchy grunt-offs, while the press pair’s constant sniping to each other isn’t charming or endearing in any way, it’s more grating than anything else.

Director William Beaudine was famed for never needing or wanting more than one take and it shows here. Everything is done on the cheap, as quickly and casually as possible, with no scene feeling as if there’s any real care or interest being shown. Not that there’s anything wrong with cheap n’cheerful horror, but it needs to have something going for it.

The whole “that’ll do” attitude is summed up by the random character who sets up the press to follow the story in the first place for no good reason, then pops up throughout the film to steer the story in the right direction. Why? Well we find out at the end and it’s one of the most outrageous twists you’ll ever see. Is it a sharp example of post-modern humour, with the filmmakers varying a knowing wink at the audience that they know this is utter bunkum? Or is it just the best example of filmmakers who couldn’t be bothered writing a story that took turns without the stupidest device ever to propel it along?


Rating: 1.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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