July 28, 2011
One of the oldest and most cherished archetypes in the horror movie genre is the mad scientist. From the crazed genius of Dr. Frankenstein to the calm brilliance of Dr. Jekyll, the mad scientist has always had his place in classic monster movies. In 1944, legendary B-movie director Sam Newfield (known primarily for quick-made westerns such as The Terror of Tiny Town) introduced the world to Dr. Igor Markoff in The Monster Maker. Often overshadowed by more popular movie madmen, Dr. Markoff is every bit as diabolical and devious as his contemporaries. And he keeps a gorilla as a pet.
In The Monster Maker, Dr. Markoff (played to perfection by prolific character actor J. Carrol Naish) has invented a serum that, when injected into a living thing, causes acromegaly (a very real disorder that distorts the growth of bones and body tissues) in the victim. While attending a concert by pianist Anthony Lawrence (Ralph Morgan), Dr. Markoff notices the musician’s beautiful daughter Patricia (Wanda McKay) in the next box over. When typical stalking fails to win the lovely young lady’s heart, Markoff resorts to a more devilish tactic. While Lawrence pays the doctor a visit to ask him to leave his daughter alone, Markoff injects him with the solution. In exchange for the antidote, Markoff asks for Lawrence’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Lawrence has to find a way to cure himself without sacrificing his daughter in the process.
What sets Igor Markoff apart from other mad scientists is his pure selfish evil. While other crazies perform their experiments for what they believe to be the good of mankind, Markoff uses his scientific advances for his own personal gain. Halfway through the film, Dr. Markoff reveals that he infected his ex-wife with acromegaly to keep other men from making advances towards her. Even when he finds a cure for the debilitating disease, his only thoughts are of how he can use his discovery for his own benefit. Markoff even tries to kill a trusted friend of his by leaving his pet gorilla’s cage unlocked, hoping he will come out and maul her. While The Monster Maker may not be as memorable of a film as Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Igor Markoff is easily a more compelling antagonist than Victor Frankenstein or Henry Jekyll.
Makeup artist Maurice Seiderman (the same artist who aged Orson Welles in Citizen Kane) has a field day with The Monster Maker. Seiderman makes the infected Lawrence look hideous, like a victim of acromegaly would. It’s not just pancake and fake hair, either. Seiderman uses prosthetics and mortician’s clay to build up the facial features of Lawrence, making him look like a cross between Jay Leno and the Elephant Man. And that deformity is enough to scare even the most icy-veined moviegoer.
The Monster Maker also marks the first credited musical score by the most prolific B-movie composer of all time, Albert Glasser. Glasser’s score adds a ton of depth to the film without making it sound like it’s taking itself too seriously. From the classical piano of Lawrence’s performances to the dramatic strains of the climactic scenes, the score compliments the film wonderfully.
Despite the obvious flaws that make The Monster Maker look like it was made quickly and cheaply, it is an entertaining film. The story is original, the actors are skilled and the film is as well made as a low-budget B-movie can be. And there’s a guy in a gorilla suit.
Watch the movie now below, courtesy of The Moving Image Archive.