Wednesday, January 29, 2014

THE NEANDERTHAL MAN (1953) Blu-ray Review

Neanderthal Man, The (1953) d. E.A. Dupont (USA)

You wouldn’t think that a nearly forgotten, cheapie black-and-white paleontological twist on the Jekyll/Hyde mythos would ever find itself in line for the Blu-ray treatment. But stranger things have happened, and so, thanks to the generous souls at Scream Factory, we are witness to the unearthing of The Neanderthal Man (paired with that equally unsung “cowboys meet dinosaur” epic, The Beast of Hollow Mountain).

Dedicated scientist Professor Clifford Groves (veteran character actor Robert Shayne) is mocked by his contemporaries for his wild theories regarding evolution. Determined to prove his naysayers wrong, he develops a serum that causes the subject to revert back to its prehistoric form. This impressive if outlandish plot device allows mild-mannered housecats to transform into giant (striped) sabre-toothed tigers and human subjects into drooling, ape-like beasts, both of which proceed to terrorize the countryside. Small town game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) seeks the aid of big city bone collector Dr. Ross Harkness (Rocky Jones: Space Ranger star Richard Crane) to end the hairy scary reign of terror.

The by-the-numbers mad scientist plot is nothing new, but it’s still enjoyable to see genre vets like Beverly Garland (Not of this Earth, It Conquered the World, The Alligator People) pursued by rubber-masked menaces, and the in-camera transformation sequences utilize the same colored filters that wowed audiences two decades earlier with 1932’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March. Granted, the clumsy results are more titter-worthy than terrifying, but in an era where time-lapse photography had become the norm – and certainly to our modern morph-weary eyes – it’s refreshing to observe this oft-neglected technique in play. (Both man-to-beast and back again, since the same footage is recycled and reversed.)

Equally entertaining, though probably not for the reasons the filmmakers intended, are the outrageously fake insert shots of a fanged-up tiger face (especially since the live footage clearly shows our beast absent any tusk-like appendages) and the go-for-broke emoting by select female cast members, in particular Doris Merrick and Joyce Terry as the misguided scientist’s fiancée and daughter, respectively. There’s also Garland’s completely gratuitous cheesecake scene, where her vain waitress character suddenly doffs her clothes to strike a swimsuit pose on a rock for the pleasure of her photographer beau, and some hilariously dodgy sign language between Terry and the Groves’ houseservant played by Mesa of Lost Women’s Tandra Quinn.

While not much effort seems to have gone into cleaning up and/or restoration of the print (scratches and fuzz abound) for this Scream Factory release, the fact that people can actually see a genuine monster movie – made during one of the genre’s more fallow periods – which had been relegated to a footnote in the most comprehensive of movie guides is reason for rejoicing. However, as is often the case tracking down long-hidden treasure, the thrill of discovery is not always equivalent to that of the hunt, so manage those expectations now.

The Neanderthal Man is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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