Since we are on a roll of horror-westerns, today one of the cheapest.
Jacques Marquette (not the Jesuit missionary) was a World War II air force photographer who after the war worked as a technician at the Technicolor labs, became a cameraman on B-movies and then founded Marquette Productions to make films with himself as DP. In 1957 he produced and shot a cheapo horror/sci-fi, The Brain from Planet Arous, with John Agar and Robert Fuller, and wanted an even cheaper picture to use on a double-bill. He was going to be DP on it himself, as usual, but the director he hired quit the day before shooting because he got a job elsewhere that actually paid something, and so Marquette stepped in and directed – badly. A new DP was engaged, a certain Taylor Byars, who unfortunately didn’t know how to shoot day-for-night, so all the first day’s footage had to be binned. It was not an auspicious start.
1957 was the year of mighty epics such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and of course teen rebellion movies were rather the thing then, so Marquette decided to cash in and rename his project, which had been Meteor Monster (it’s a very cheap-looking meteor – I think it was a sparkler – that crashes to earth in the first reel and causes all the trouble) and it became Teenage Monster. There was only one snag: the actor playing the teenager part (Gil Perkins, a former William Boyd stunt double) was 50. No one seemed to notice.
Marquette did get the famous Jack P Pierce to do the make-up. How far he succeeded you may judge for yourself, above.
The picture was written by Ray Buffum. This type of film was Mr Buffum’s stock in trade. The dialogue sounds as though it was produced by a team of grade school writers. It is as subtle as a lead ingot and has no tension whatsoever. Frightening? You’re kidding. I only wish that it had been even worse, so that at least we’d have gotten a laugh out of it.
The opening title crawl tells us that we are in “the West” in 1880. The writer wasn’t outrageous enough to tell us it was a true story, but contented himself with “It could have happened” (which, though, it could not).
Married couple Jim and Ruth Cannon (Jim McCullough and Anne Gwynne) and their young son Charlie (Stephen Parker) are having breakfast in their cabin, one of those typical three-wall sets with the table in the middle. The father goes to work in their gold mine, accompanied by the boy, but just then a meteorite crashes to earth, killing Pa and knocking the kid out. Apparently some gamma-rays or something beam into the supine child because in seven years he becomes a hairy seven-foot monster, thanks to Mr Pierce. Unfortunately, although the boy is at heart kind, he doesn’t know his own strength and is distinctly homicidal. His ma keeps his existence secret and the hirsute horror has to live in the mine.
Top-billed Ms Gwynne as Ruth was an expert in this genre, known as Queen of the Screamers, and she is best remembered, as the IMDb bio tells us, as “a decorative lure for the monstrous antics of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.”, though she also did quite a few B-Westerns (I remember her in Panhandle). She does her best to hold a shambolic production together.
The monster speaks in a mangled garble but everyone seems to know what he means, I’m not sure how.
Well, mother and son finally strike it rich, and buy a posh house in town, where the hairy one still has to live hidden, in an upper room, whence he often escapes, however, to kill things.
There’s Bob, the local sheriff (second-billed Stuart Wade) and he rather pines after Ruth, but Ruth can’t tell him about her son, what with the creature being responsible for all these murders round town and all, so Ruth has to decline marriage, even though she loves the lawman.
Now the monster takes a fancy to a local waitress, Kathy (Gloria Castillo) and kidnaps her. Ruth is obliged to use her new-found wealth to buy the manipulative girl’s silence but this jeune fille is the evilest character in the drama for she blackmails Ruth and incites monstrous Charles to kill people she dislikes, which the poor simpleton does.
In fact one of these unfortunate victims, Marv Howell, is played by another soon-to-be expert in this sub-genre, Chuck Courtney. I say expert because Chuck would be Billy in our recently-reviewed Billy the Kid versus Dracula, the 1966 art film (not).
Well, it all comes to a (singularly unexciting) climax on an Iverson Ranch cliff-top and The End comes up just in time to cure sleeping sickness, for we have to get up and go.
Dennis Schwartz called it “tawdry”, remarked that it “gets lost in its ineptitude and poor storytelling” and summarized by saying, “The only film directed by Jacques Marquette is a bomb. It’s a blend of Western and sci-fi film, and doesn’t work for either genre.”
Myself, I find such Z-movies weirdly watchable, but that’s probably just me.
Next time, we’ll finish our mini-season of three horror Westerns with a classic of the genre!