01 August 2014

The Man and The Monster (1959)
78 min.
Directed by Rafael Baledón.
With Enrique Rambal, Abel Salazar, Martha Roth, Ofelia Guilmáin, Ana Laura Baledon, Maricarmen Vela, José Chávez, Carlos Suárez.
Goethe's Faust collides headlong with Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in this feisty Mexican horror from 1959.

Music promoter Ricardo (Salazar) pays a visit to a small town in order to meet a brilliant new concert pianist named Laura (Roth). To his surprise, Ricardo discovers the young girl guarded by her wildly secretive, and defensive, mentor Samuel Manning (Rambal) and his overprotective mother (Guilmáin).

It turns out Maestro Samuel is more than just eccentric. You see, Samuel sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the gift of playing the piano like an unparalleled artist. And the problem? Whenever Samuel tickles the ivories, he transforms into a hideous, drooling werewolf who embarks on murderous rampages!

Ah, such is the price of fame.

While Samuel lives out his musical aspirations through tutoring his young protege, does the poor girl know the danger she's in? Will Ricardo be able to rescue the unknowing ward from her bloodthirsty captor?

Directed by Rafael Baledón (who helmed similar horrors such as The Hell of Frankenstein in 1960 and the excellent Curse of the Crying Woman in 1963), this South-of-the-Border terror is earnest and entertaining viewing.

The Man and The Monster boasts several nice touches, including a (presumably tacked-on?) opening where a wayward blonde tourist finds herself stranded outside the Manning estate...and hospitality nowhere in sight.

And let's not forget Alejandra. Once a beautiful and accomplished pianist, Manning murdered her and now keeps her mummified corpse locked up near his piano room...for musical inspiration.

Finally, there's the coup de grace: the climactic setpiece where Laura and Ricardo trick Samuel into transforming into his hirsute alter-ego in front of a crowd of unsuspecting - and understandably terrified - onlookers.

It would be irresponsible to claim that The Man and The Monster is great horror filmmaking. The plot plays too many of its cards up front, and as a result there's precious little suspense. Likewise, Samuel's mother (the stern-faced Guilmáin) is underused, and a subplot involving their troubled relationship seems underwritten at best.

Still, when you get those Mexican matinee hunger pangs...give this flavorful, monster-tinged chimichanga a try. It might prove just the thing.

Spanish: El hombre y el monstruo.

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