I think I was much too harsh on this when I first saw it. The Mad Monster’s certainly on the lower spectrum of 40’s horror flicks, but I don’t know if it’s entirely bottom of the barrel, and you could still get some entertainment value out of it.
Being an early werewolf movie (released a year after the classic The Wolf Man), this film lacks the more supernatural origin of the werewolf (such as a curse) and instead relies on a scientifically-created wolf man: a simple-minded handyman (played by Glenn Strange), who a scientist (George Zucco) uses to extract revenge on those who deemed his scientific ideas mad.
In all fairness, as Zucco’s first scene has the scientist seeing visions of the four scientists scorning him for these same ideas, and Zucco replies to them in a tone that reaches shouting before long, one could probably forgive those who find Zucco’s character mentally unbalanced.
Zucco gives a pretty good performance here, as it is. Zucco appeared in a fair amount of B-level horror films in the 1940’s before his retirement from acting, and while this performance isn’t his most memorable, it is a good portrayal of a truly mad scientist. Glenn Strange did great in his simple-minded role, and I thought he was perhaps the real stand-out here. Anne Nagel and Johnny Downs were both decent in their roles, though Downs didn’t really have all that much to do until the ending, and Nagel almost never had anything to do.
Another thing that positively stood out were portions of the setting, especially the mist-covered marshlands where some of the action took place. It had a suitably creepy vibe, despite the cheapness of the film, and I’ve personally always liked how swamps look, especially in black-and-white. I wish more of the horror sequences had taken place in such a setting, though.
When all’s said and done, The Mad Monster certainly pales in comparison to some of the classics of the 1940’s, and really, would probably only appeal to fans of the lower-end B movies of the time period (such as The Monster Maker, coincidentally directed by the same guy). I enjoyed it more this time around than when I first saw it, but ultimately, there’s so many more memorable and just plain better movies out there than this one. I did appreciate the victim choices, though, so kudos there.