The last four Universal Horror Collections brought to us courtesy of those delightful devils over at Scream Factory have been a putrid potluck of fiendishly fun fright flicks (Don’t believe me? Head here, here, here, and lastly here to read my thoughts for your own sinister self!)!
Let’s see if Volume 5 (which features fright flicks starring ghoulish gorillas goin’ apeshit and sultry half-human women) lives up to it’s predecessors!
Starting things off we have The Monster and the Girl (1941):
Scot Webster (Philip Terry) is a small town rube that attempts to save his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew) from a life of ill-repute at the hands of city slicker gangster W. S. Bruhl (Paul Lukas)… a course of action that finds ol’ single “T” Scot taking the fall for the murder gangster.
As is the way of things; Scot is tried, executed, and has his brain placed in the body of a gorilla… it happens more than you think boils n’ ghouls. This gives him the brute force to start killing gangsters as he travels revenge’s road.
With a brisk pace (the film runs sixty-four minutes) and an irresistible comic book premise; The Monster and the Girl is a wicked winner in my beastly book!
Adding to the fun of the picture are some strong performances with the top of the heap being George Zucco’s classy performance as the mad doc that does the brain-based switcheroo mentioned up yonder, and Ellen Drew as the protagonist’s smart-talkin’ sibling. And seeing the gorilla (portrayed by an uncredited Charles Gemora in a spectacular ape suit he created his own damn self) stalking the city streets at night is a great bit of creature-feature fun… and atmospheric to boot!
As for special features to accompany the film we are treated to an audio commentary featuring author Tom Weaver (and editor Steve Kronenberg), who gives a detailed analysis of the film’s production and presents plenty of trivia as well; all in his wise-assin’ style (that I adore by the by), and that’s all she wrote!
Next up we have 1943’s Captive Wild Woman:
Animal trainer Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) has just returned from down Africa way with a whole host of new animals to utilize in the acts he performs for the Whipple Circus; but his greatest find is the hyper-intelligent female gorilla, Cheela (Ray Corrigan).
That’s all fine and dandy, but you know what isn’t? The health of his fiancee Beth’s (Evelyn Ankers) sister Dorothy (Martha MacVicar). So to fix that sitch, B takes her sis to see noted endocrinologist Dr. Sigmund Walters (an impossibly young John Carradine).
Long story short; Siggy-baby takes genetic material from Dorothy and transplants it into a recently swiped Cheela… which turns her into a mute human female (the stunning Acquanetta)… he also chucks the brain of his now decidedly ex-nurse in there as well. The science here seems rock solid.
Also for reasons, Sigmund names the newly-human ape Paula Dupree. Again, rock solid.
Will the transformation be permanent, and what deviltry does that demented doctor have planned for Paula Dupree? Circus stock footage and dodgy rear projection ensue.
As sketchy with animal ethics as it is absolutely bonkers in premise; Captive Wild Woman is a hoot-and-a-fuckin’ half! You get exciting (if no doubt cruel) animal acts featuring actors that seem to not even be on the same coast as the footage they are reacting to (probably since the animal footage comes from a completely different film; 1933’s The Big Cage to be precise), a pretty cool ape-suit, the beauty of Acquanetta, some great make-up effects, a fantastic performance from Carradine… and pure pulp goodness!
As for bonus material, we get: the film’s theatrical trailer, an image gallery, and yet another audio commentary from Weaver featuring more great info and asides!
Following that comes 1944’s Jungle Woman:
After we hunker down to plenty of reused footage (nearly a quarter of this flicks brief, nearly sixty-one minute runtime is recycled footage… some of it twice recycled as it contains that big cat footage from The Big Cage) from Captive Wild Woman we get down to brass tacks with Jungle Woman.
Anyway; Paula Dupree (a returning Acquanetta) is alive and well (and she can speak this time) and under the care of Dr. Carl Fletcher (J. Carrol Naish) who has turned her human once again (and she can speak now too).
But, for all of that high-falutin’ speaking, Paula is still very much a gorilla by nature; prone to rage, super-strong, and horny-as-all-fuck for Bob (Richard Davis), the fiance of Fletcher’s daughter Joan (Lois Collier)… and she’ll straight-up murder a mother fucker to be with him!
Jungle Woman is an effective lil’ thriller; full of suspense and featuring an antagonist that is wildly unpredictable. Is there anything as disarming as an incredible beauty that would literally commit murder (not to mention blackmail) with her bare-hands to get what she wants?
Speaking of which; Acquanetta is at her best when she’s acting with her body… even her eye movements speak volumes… and speaking is where her performance gets a bit haggard; I’m not sure if her dialog was supposed to be delivered so stilted given her history of being a gorilla turned human, or she was just not-that-hot at delivering lines (for the record I believe it’s the former); but regardless, the role is a physical one at it’s core, so she succeeds admirably on that front.
As for extra features, this disc contains an image gallery and an audio commentary; this one featuring author Gregory Mank who presents a scholarly and engaging look at the film’s production and the strange and sad history of the film’s star Acquanetta (who had to unfortunately hide her ethnicity to get jobs).
Finally comes The Jungle Captive (1945):
Ol’ Doc Stendahl (Otto Kruger) and his assistants, Ann Forester (Amelita Ward) and Don Young (Phil Brown) has cracked the code to restore life to dead animals.
Naturally the now Deadsville Paula Dupree would make the next logical subject for the experiments, given her origins and all, so Stendahl gets the deformed Moloch (the iconic Rondo Hatton) to swipe her body from the morgue, along with Dr. Fletcher’s notes.
Well, soon a partially human Paula (now played by Vicky Lane) is up and growlin’… but will Stendahl manage to make her human… and if so, what are his plans for our femme fatale?
The Jungle Captive is a mixed bag for sure. In the plus column we get another solid heavy turn from Hatton, and Lane’s Paula stays in her half animal form longer here than in previous pictures, with that great make up from a an uncredited Jack P. Pierce front and center.
On the downside, Lane is no Acquanetta (who was outed by that time in regards to her race, and therefore not as desirable in Hollywood’s eyes… “good ol’ days” my fuckin’ arcane ass), and the latter absolutely owned the role.
As for bonus materials, the film’s trailer and an audio commentary from author Scott Gallinghouse (and holy hell does this track contain some real doozies as far as stories go) are what we get on this disc.
Look, Paula Dupree should have been a horror icon, but alas it wasn’t to be… that doesn’t mean you won’t love her misadventures here any less though!