Directed by George Waggner [Other horror films: Horror Island (1941), The Wolf Man (1941), The Climax (1944), Jack the Ripper (1958), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Veil (1958)]
This is like so many horror films from the 1940’s – a perfectly fun and competent attempt, but ultimately just around average. The story isn’t that shabby, and there are some nifty effects to be sure, but Man-Made Monster isn’t exactly what I’d call memorable.
If those in the horror community hear about this one at all, it may be due to it being the first horror appearance of Lon Chaney Jr. (he of course later starred in The Wolf Man, and went on to appear in such films as The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, and a personal favorite, Indestructible Man), and he does a fantastic job playing a folksy country boy. He is pretty damn sympathetic because he’s such a nice guy, and when he’s used in some experiments by a mad scientist and starts killing people, that can’t be a fun time for his character.
Even without Chaney Jr., though, the cast here is strong. Lionel Atwill (of plenty of films, such as Mystery of the Wax Museum, Murders in the Zoo, Secret of the Blue Room, and Doctor X) was great as a mad scientist who wanted to use those he considers useless as electrical zombies. Others, such as Samuel S. Hinds (The Strange Case of Doctor Rx) and Anne Nagel (Black Friday, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, and The Mad Monster) bring a little bit to the film also.
The story is somewhat similar to The Walking Dead, only Boris Karloff was probably quite a bit more sympathetic there than Lon Chaney Jr. is here. Either way, it’s a tragic tale of an innocent man being misused by science, and in this case, Chaney Jr. is given high doses of electricity, and becomes a glowing danger to all around him. The effects looks pretty awesome – just imagine a flashing outline of electricity surrounding someone – and for being a somewhat cheaper Universal movie, they did a good job.
I have to say, though, I abhor the ending. After everything goes down, Atwill’s complicity is never examined. Oh, a few characters know that he administered the experiments on Chaney Jr., and they have proof in the form of his notes. But instead of clearing Chaney Jr.’s name (as he murdered multiple people while under Atwill’s control), because they’re scared the experiments could be repeated, they chuck the notebook into the fire. I found that abhorrent, and I condemn the both of them, or as much as I can condemn fictional characters from a horror movie from the early 1940’s.
Otherwise, Man-Made Monster is pretty good. I enjoy the different time lapses, and I think Lon Chaney Jr. does a real swell job. For a first-time horror role, you definitely root for his character. The movie may not be great, but it’s a solid watch if you’re into classic horror.