1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Terror is a Man

To augment the reviews of films based on H.G.Wells’ “Island of Dr. Moreau” we must digress back to 1958 for Terror Is A Man (TiaM). The screenplay was written by Paul Harber, with no acknowledgement to Wells, but Harber’s story is clearly derived from Wells’ Moreau. This sci-fi / horror hybrid has undertones of Frankenstein as well. Where the 1932 adaptation had inserted a "panther woman", this version features a "panther man." Richard Derr stars in the role of shipwrecked sailor who stumbles on the doctor’s island. Greta Thyseen plays the curvaceous and lonely wife of the doctor. It was filmed in the Philippines. This film was re-released in 1964 with the title Blood Creature, perhaps to appeal to the drive-in horror market. It was given the odd marketing gimmick of a ringing bell (more like an old phone ring) to alert viewers when something shocking was about to come, so viewers could close their eyes.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Shipwrecked William Fitzgerald washes up on a remote island. He is nursed back to health by a Dr. Girard. A strange creature kills a couple of island natives, so the rest of the village flee in their canoes. Girard and his assistant, Walter, capture the beast, which is Girard’s project-in-progress. The doctor’s wife, Frances (Thyssen) is afraid of her husband’s work, and lonely. William takes a shine to her and offers to help her get off the island. Girard does not hide his work, but puts in some long exposition, telling William the back story of the making of CatMan from a panther via surgery. Using glandular hormones, Girard says he can grow Catman’s brain to be human. Why? Girard does not think humankind can evolve to betterment, being held back by ‘complexes’ etc. So, he wants to start afresh with his new man — the start of a new perfect race. William agrees to help the doctor with his work. Unseen by others, Walter beats the gurney-bound Catman with a board. Later, when everyone is down in the lab, Walter comes in and the Catman goes into a rage, breaking free. Girard tries to talk soothing. Walter gets a torch and lights Catman’s bandages on fire. Catman passes out and is sedated again. Walter, William and Frances talk of escaping the island, but Walter wants to kill the creature first. When he comes down to the lab with a gun, Catman breaks free and kills Walter. Thus escaped, Catman kills the servant girl, Selena and runs out into the jungle. Girard and William go looking for him, but he has doubled back to the house. He corners Frances and she swoons. Catman carries her away. Girard and William follow. Catman carries Frances up to the sea cliffs. Girard convinces Catman to put Frances down, but he then claws the doctor’s face, then throws him over the cliff. William shoots Catman in the stomach, causing him to fumble down the cliff to the beach. There, Catman encounters the servant boy, who gives him the small boat in which to escape. Frances muses that she thought the Catman only wanted to help her. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The paraphrase of Wells’ Moreau story gives the script some interest. The production is spartan, which gives the story a more intimate feel. Thyssen is marvelously out of place (statuesque platinum blonde in tight skirts and pumps — on a rustic jungle island).

Cultural Connection
Evolution into the Master Race — During Dr. Girard’s long exposition about his work, he posits that organisms evolve into better and better species. Girard felt that present mankind was too flawed to ever evolve into the superior beings he envisioned, so he undertook to shortcut the process. His goal was rather Nazi, to create a superior race of super men.

Based on the Book — Even though Wells is not credited as the source material, it is clearly drawn from his “Island of Dr. Moreau.” Paul Harber, who wrote the script, was more experienced as a third-tier actor than a writer. Reworking Wells was easier than creating a whole new story. Of course, the addition of a Marilyn Monroe clone was pure Hollywood and not Wellsian. To his credit, Harber kept vivisection as the doctor’s method, not the tepid “genetics” used by later retellings.

Hint of Frankenstein — Mixed in amid the strong Wellsian story are elements of the classic Frankenstein story. Instead of a whole village of beast-folk, Girard has only one — his “monster”. It has stitched up scars too, per the classic monster. Walter beats Catman, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant tormented the monster.

Misplaced Babe — The Frances character, played by former Miss Denmark 1951, Greta Thyssen, is almost surreally out of place. Where almost everything on the set and costumes is dark, she is always dressed in whites to go with her platinum blonde hair. She is always clean, tidy and wearing the classic pointy-peaks undergarments of the 50s idiom of beauty. She does some sultry glamor posing on the beach — for no good reason. Amid all the ‘horror’ and drama, her part was to look unapproachably glamorous.

Radio Pheromones — Apparently the lonely and lovely doctor’s wife was giving off “help me” pheromones. Total stranger William falls in love with her very quickly and promises to help her get off the island. Fat, sweaty Walter picks up her pheromone transmission, but thinks to finagle a bit of booty as part of helping her. Even the beast, Catman, is implied to have picked up Frances’s pheromones and carried her off as his version of “help me.” She believed, in the end, that Catman was just trying to help her.

Intelligent Design — Harber’s exposition tosses around the usual old presumptions about Evolution. Changes happen slowly and incrementally over a long time. William points out that what Girard is doing is not sped up evolution, but intelligent design. A deliberate intelligence was manipulating things to make the new creature. It was not random mutations over eons.

Sequel Hint? — Viewers will note that the “monster”, Catman, does not die at the end. Instead, he escapes in a boat. The writer and/or producers were leaving room for Catman to return, rather like the Creature from the Black Lagoon did, or like Frankenstein’s monster did. Unfortunately, Catman did not return. Subsequent “Blood Island” films followed all new and unrelated story arcs.

Bottom line? TiaM is not a great old sci-fi, but it’s not too bad for nostalgic entertainment. The paraphrase of Wells is interesting. The heavy-handed dubbed audio gets a bit annoying at times. Those who like old black and white horror/sci-fi hybrid B films, will find TiaM to be a sturdy example.


Randall Landers said...

I am quite literally watching this movie on Creepster.TV! I cannot believe the quality in this production, and it's simply wonderful!

Randall Landers said...

Just finished watching, and I must say it's one of the better takes on Well's original story that I've seen. I think your review nails it perfectly.

Nightowl said...

Hi Randall, Pretty interesting coincidence of timing that you saw this on TV just after I posted it. What are the odds, eh?

TiaM was a fun watch, in all it's very-50s style. The use of dark sets and focused light was almost noir.