You’ll live until I’ll live
Looking for a vintage, atmospheric horror film that you probably haven’t seen? Look no further than The Revived Monster (1953), also known as Monster and Il Mostruoso Dottor Crimen (Italian print reviewed here). This Mexican horror gem has it all: romance, betrayal, a phantom-like madman, a creepy castle, a laboratory full of electrical apparatus and glassware, an ape-like monster in the basement, wax figures, graveyards, wind-swept coastal landscapes, howling wolves and a moody score. Wow.
Monster is generally credited as being the film that kicked off the horror film cycle in Mexico in the mid-50′s. The film was co-produced by Abel Salazar (El Vampiro, 1957; El Barón del Terror, 1962) and comes from Churubusco Azteco studios, located in Mexico City, Mexico. In the 1940′s, Churubusco attracted the attention of several prominent directors, including John Ford (The Fugitive, 1946), Don Siegel (The Big Steal, 1949) and Luis Buñuel. Later, in the 50′s and 60′s this studio cranked out several effective and sometimes goofy horror films.
Monster was directed by Chihuahuan-born Chano Urueta, who helmed over 100 films, including several genre notables such as the wacky El Barón del Terror (The Brainiac)(1962), The Witches Mirror (1962), and the beautifully photographed crime-actioner The Magnifient Beast (1953). Monster has been described by genre enthusiasts as Univeral-like, but to me, Urueta’s expressionist visual style reminds me more of Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, 1942) or Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face, 1960). However, there’s nothing Val Lewtonish about The Revived Monster. We see grotesqueries very early on in the film.
Looking for a story, sensationalist reporter Nora (played by Czech-born Miroslava*), responds to a mysterious advertisement from a wealthy man looking for companionship. This is Dr. Herrmann Ling (José Linares-Rivas), a noted plastic surgeon and scientist who lives in a massive castle with his subordinant servant Mischa (Alberto Mariscal). All of the mirrors in the castle are covered, and Ling wears a cloth mask and surrounds himself with his wax sculptures of beautiful women. He reminds me a bit of Peter Lorre’s Dr. Gogol in MGM’s Mad Love (1935).
Nora meets Ling and travels back to his house. She is touched by Ling’s sincerity and story how we was ostracized by his parents and later by his professional colleagues. He retreated to his castle to conduct his research privately.
The bulk of Monster is filmed in the massive castle-set by cinematographer Victor Herrera (The Living Coffin, 1959; The Black Pit of Dr. M, 1959; El Castillo de los Monstruos, 1958). The scenes are atmospheric, with contrasty compositions, slow pans, and weird angles of characters and props within the expressionist castle. It reminds me of Baron Frankenstein’s house in Son of Frankenstein (DOP George Robinson). Wax heads are creepy.
Nora of course confronts Ling to remove the mask.
And the response is similar to Mary Philbin’s in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Oddly, Nora responds moments later by kissing the pathetic Ling. She loves Ling. Or does she?
The make-up is indeed clearly inspired by Lon Chaney’s phantom, with upturned nose, flared cheekbones and fleshy protruding lips. For sake of surprise, I’ve deliberately omitted a closeup. The makeup was effectively designed by Armando Meyer (The Curse of the Crying Woman, 1963), and appears to have been resued by Meyer in The Man and the Monster (El Hombre y el Monstruo, 1959), a film about a hiddeously deformed pianist (also worth a look).
The revived monster doesn’t actually refer to Dr. Ling. He’s Dr. Frankenstein. The revived monster is a hairy humanoid that Ling experiments on in his lab. These scenes remind me of Universal’s Frankenstein (1931). The Revived Monster is a fun hybrid film —Part Phantom of the Opera, part Island of Lost Souls, with a dash of Frankenstein. The film holds up well today. Mexican horror fans with eat this film up with gusto.
Oddly, my DVD-R comes from an Italian print. It’s sub-titled in English, but the dialogue/dub and titles are Italian. It really doesn’t matter as this is a visual treat.
*Actress Miroslava committed suicide in 1955, allegedly after her romance with bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin ended with Dominguin running off with actress Ava Gardner.