Terror is a Man (1959) October 12th, 2020
Terror is a Man quickly became my standout favorite last October. Taking its premise from Island of Lost Souls (and therefore from The Island of Doctor Moreau) and stitching it together with Frankenstein‘s plot and the locations from I Walked With a Zombie, Terror is a Man’s story focuses on a shipwrecked man washing ashore on a remote island occupied by a mad scientist, his wife, their son, and their servant Walter. After being nursed back to health by Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer) and his nurse/wife Frances (Greta Thyssen), William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr) soon finds himself involved in their dangerous genetic experiments.
Dr. Girard’s created a creature that’s part human and part panther through a crude and unscientific method of gene alteration. William’s pity for the creature and attraction to Mrs. Girard embroil the sailor in the island’s drama. Eventually the creature gets loose… ya know… I liked this movie so much I’m not going to spoil the rest of it. It’s fun and a must-see for monster movie fanatics.
Shot in the Philippines, Terror Is a Man is a love letter to the monster films of the 1930’s and 40’s. I’m a big love-letter movie fan. I don’t know if anyone else calls them that but to me, a love-letter movie is usually a throwback genre film celebrating and building upon the classics it emulates. Star Wars borrowed characters from Kurosawa and its premise from the sci-fi serials George Lucas loved as a kid. Cabin in the Woods, Scream, and Slither reflect their author’s admiration for the horror genre and gross-out monster movies. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a classic in its own right, shows off its influences like a heart shaped ‘Mom’ tattoo. Terror is a Man isn’t ubiquitous like Star Wars, it didn’t reinvigorate its genre like Scream, and its cult following pales in comparison to The Rocky Horror Picture Show but it’s a blast in its own right.
William Castle was the king of movie gimmicks. He’d do anything to fill theater seats from installing seat vibrators to offering specialty glasses to see the invisible specters in 13 Ghosts, but he wasn’t the only movie tycoon experimenting with extra-narrative thrills. The opening title card to Terror is a Man explains the film contains a scene so upsettingly cringeworthy that the producers have added the sound of a bell preceding the scene to give any squeamish members of the audience the chance to close their eyes or look away. It’s brilliant, waiting for the bell made me pay closer attention to the movie than I my have otherwise. What if I missed it? What gory horror could warrant such a warning? I waited with rapt attention and was rewarded with a campy yet creepy and engaging horror gem. And when the bell finally rang my eyes widened with antici… pation. It was a surgery scene, the creature was under the knife and after the bell rings the scene turns to a shot of a scalpel cutting into the creatures flesh. It looks like a real knife cutting real flesh… because that’s exactly what it is. According to the special features on the blu-ray from Severin Films a real pig was cut to achieve the onscreen effect. It’s cheap but it works.
We made an effort to watch more international than domestic horror last October. 56% of the movies we watched were from non-US countries. The Blood Drinkers and Terror is a Man were the only two filipino films we watched this year. Gerardo De Leon directed both and while I didn’t much like The Blood Drinkers, Terror is a Man blew me away. Leon extracts brilliant performances from his entire cast, everyone of them delivers wonderfully but none more than Lederer. Francis Lederer, as Dr. Charles Girard, is every bit as sinister as Charles Laughton in Island of Lost Souls but he brings to this role a confidence in his work, a preternatural understanding of the science behind his terrible experiments that makes you wonder, what else does he know? What else could he do? And who could stop him? Lederer simply steals the show.
This is a movie more people should see for its melodramatic story, its incredible performances, and its innovative creature design.
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