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How to Make a Monster / Blood of Dracula [Import]
This collection presents a double feature of B-movie horror films produced by exploitation legend Samuel Z. Arkoff: in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958), a monster make-up man who's not too happy about losing his job strikes back by secretly drugging the studio's teenage stars and creating enough rampaging zombies to turn the backlot into a morgue; while in BLOOD OF DRACULA (1957), a teenage girl who is furious with her father's decision to remarry makes an ideal subject for a deranged instructor's bloodthirsty experiment.
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The fourth AIP 'teenage monster' film, released the next summer in July of 1958 was, How to Make A Monster. Most critics consider this to be the third film of a trilogy since they overlook Blood of Dracula. And once again, mad science is at work this time turning teenage actors on a movie lot into unwitting and real rampaging monsters. Where is the CULT CLASSICS Double Feature, I Was A Teenage Werewolf / I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, please?
Some of these AIP films, however, played on the screens of my father's small-town indoor theatres back in semi-rural Illinois, and BLOOD OF DRACULA was one of the first movies I had then seen about vampires. It is a different take on the vampire legend, and in this case, the villain is an evil professor at a private girl's school who is trying out her experiments about the primitive nature of man and his violent tendencies on the over-sexed girls. The heroine and, ultimately, the vampire -- played by Susan Harrison (who was she and whatever happened to her and her film career?) -- is her dupe. The new female student is an angry type, it appears, who has hostilities toward her father's new ( and apparently gold-digging) wife, a perfect subject for an academic who has an agenda or two of her own regarding the male-dominated establishment.
BLOOD OF DRACULA has nothing to do with that famous Stoker character, but it is certainly a commercially viable title. A short time later, I saw the Hammer vampire classic HORROR OF DRACULA in color, and only then did I gain some knowledge of what these legendary creatures were supposed to be. Susan Harrison does not walk with her fangs barely hidden; she transforms into a vampire-like creature (through some inane and unconvincing transformation sequences) in order to suck the blood from her friends and visiting boys-- one of whom launches into a musical number that seems to come out of nowhere. The police, except for one knowing cop, are mystified. This is not your run-of-the-mill serial killer on the loose. Duh. The knowing cop who had a school friend from the Carpathian mountains seems to know a lot for a small-town cop, and it almost looks as if, as handsome as he is, he will be the hero to solve the case. For some reason, this doesn't happen. He all but disappears from the plot, and no real hero to fight the vampire creature appears to save the day. The professor is dispatched by the vampire girl, and the vampire girl is somehow impaled on a piece of wood that penetrates her heart. How this happens is not shown. It is only discovered after the fact by the witless boy friend. Perhaps the film was threatening to go over the restrictions of a 70-minute running time. Too bad. A promising setting like WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY and Hammer's BRIDES OF DRACULA and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is thrown away.
Also thrown away is the plot of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER. Sure, it is a clever way to re-use the make-up from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, two former AIP low-budget programmers, but the scenes where these monsters are used by the make-up artist, who is angry at the studio heads for wanting to make musicals instead of horror films, are far from frightening because they are executed without a modicum of suspense or built-up tension. Gary Conway (reprising his role from I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN) and Gary Clarke (standing in for Michael Landon who played the werewolf in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF) sleepwalk through their undemanding roles as the dupes of the make-up artist. The angst-ridden make-up artist who will soon be out of a job is played by Robert H. Harris, an actor who earlier appeared in television programs such as ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. He is credible here, but his assistant, played by Paul Brinegar, has so little to do that one wonders why he was cast in this film at all. If anything, he looks as if he longs to get back to his role on RAWHIDE.
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER doesn't really show us how to make a monster, as if anyone in the audience were dying to find out. It only shows us a different motive for on-screen murders, such as they are. In itself, that premise might be unique if the death scenes here were skillfully executed with moody lighting and careful camera placements. Unfortunately, they are not; the scenes that promise to be terrifying are lifeless (pun intended) and pedestrian. The tag line for this film promised that it "will scare the yell out of you!!" Really? Were viewers supposed to be so frightened in the theatre or in the back seat of their cars at the drive-in that they would be unable to yell? Were they supposed to boo at the screen instead?
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, like BLOOD OF DRACULA, features one musical number included for who-knows-why. WIthin the context of the film, with studio heads and their directors wanting to make musicals instead of horror films, it does have its own logic -- something that the musical number in BLOOD OF DRACULA does not -- but why is John Ashley shown as a singer? Yes, he is handsome enough to please the teen girls in the audience -- but a singer? John Ashley? "You've got to have wee-ooo?" Well, maybe we've got to have it instead of the turgid monster sequences, but were no real singers available? No Frankie Avalon or anyone else who later showed up in AIP films? No Dick Contino?
The ending of the film, like the ending of I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, erupts into color. Whoa. Why? Okay, color was used briefly in such black-and-white films as THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and PORTRAIT OF JENNY -- but it was used in those films for a purpose. But why here? Robert H. Harris turns on the lights in his home at the end of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER so that we, along with the uninterested young "actors" played by Gary Conway and Gary Clarke, can see his collection of monster masks. But why here? Why is color not used in the musical number with John Ashley -- the way MGM used Technicolor in its musicals -- instead of during the fire sequence? Is it used merely to justify the mention of color in the advertisements? Or maybe because John Ashley is no Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire and is not worth the cost of color.
Curious film. Not bad, but not good. It is just there, as a trip down memory lane for those who remember seeing it in theatres or who saw in on television once upon a time. Where was William Castle when we needed him?