The Ape Man
No one is safe from the cruel desires of this inhuman fiend!
Year of Release: 1943
Also Known As: Lock Your Doors, They Creep in the Dark
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 64 minutes (1:04)
Director: William Beaudine
Bela Lugosi ... Dr. James Brewster
Wallace Ford ... Jeff B. Carter
Louise Currie ... Billie Mason
Minerva Urecal ... Agatha Brewster
Henry Hall ... Dr. George Randall
Emil Van Horn ... The Ape
J. Farrell MacDonald ... Capt. O'Brien
Wheeler Oakman ... Detective Brady
Dr. Brewster is working on a serum derived from gorilla spinal fluid and tests his experimental formula upon himself. Unfortunately, the serum transforms Dr. Brewster into a simian-like creature and he desperately attempts to find a cure. Only human spinal fluid will return him to normal, but Dr. Brewster uses some nefarious methods to extract his needed supply.
The Ape Man, remindin' us that the Hair Club for Men pretty much owes every mid life crisis success story involvin' bubble headed blondes with daddy issues, to the tireless efforts of Bela Lugosi. Bela was solvin' male pattern baldness long before we all realized we'd gotten too old an fat to even pretend we had a shot with Donna Higgles from customer service, but the guy never seems to get any credit for... anything, really. Boris Karloff goes on to sing the theme song for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but what happens to Bela? I'll tell you what; guy ends his career whippin' Tor Johnson with a bull rope in Bride of the Monster, an fortunately doesn't live long enough to see Martin Landau win an Oscar for Best Supportin' Actor portrayin' 'im in the Ed Wood bio pic. They say life ain't fair, but some guys just seem to get mule kicked in the wangle dangles a lot harder'n others.
An speakin' of testicle crushin' defeats, Skunky Hernandez made it back from the fertilizer expo up in Swallagoob, Montana, an hadn't shut up about all the "innovations" he's got planned to make his ranch more efficient ever since. The moment he'd made it back, he got into an eight hour filibuster against 'imself an decided that what the county really needs is a cannabis retailer an I ain't gonna lie, he's kinda got a point. If you've ever listened to one of Reverend Dollarhide's "death from above" sermons about how we're all gonna get smited back to the stone age for mixin' wool socks with our cotton briefs in the washin' machine, you could see how a mild relaxant to help everybody dial it back to Jim Jones levels of sanity might do the town a lotta good. So I told Skunky that this might just be the first idea he'd ever had that wouldn't crash an burn like a leather clad road pirate in a Mad Max flick, but he wasn't listenin' cause he'd resumed his rectoral debate an started throwin' around $10 words like "botanical" an "hydroponic" at nobody in particular, til he'd decided he wanted to build a greenhouse to grow his reefer in. I didn't know much about buildin' one at first, but he'd gotten this "how to" video from the Norml representatives at the expo, an turns out it wasn't all that complicated. Although it woulda been a damn sight more helpful if they'd bothered to include a segment on how to remove glass slivers without breakin' 'em. Took about 12 hours, even with Cleave Furguson, Billy Hilliard, an Sadie Bonebreak all pitchin' in, but we got it done about sundown an headed for home while Skunky started settin' up his pottin' soil accordin' to the instructions on audio book he'd ordered offa Tommy Chong's website. I think that was prolly the first time in my life that I'd actually respected Skunky, cause it was a pretty ballsy thing to do in these parts. Unfortunately in a small town, word travels fast, an the God squad didn't find it "ballsy" so much as "an affront to His Lordness," an by the time I'd gotten over to Skunky's the next mornin' to see how his plantin' had gone, the hydrochronic shed'd been razed to the ground by Dollarhide an his dyslexic Amish reinforcements. For the first time since my sentence, I actually felt bad for the big galoot, an told 'em we could try again an surround it with land mines from the army surplus store the next time, but he just wasn't in the mood to talk about it. Naturally, the four of us got excommunicated for our involvement in the "blasphemy" (Sadie'd already gotten banned about 15 years ago for gettin' a little too friendly with Sister Prudence Dickersin in the confessional), but I ain't worried about it. The big guy knows BS when he smells it.
Gettin' back to the flick though, The Ape Man's one of those moldy oldies from back when apes still scared the hell out of us on account of how they were always tryin' to steal our women an climb the Chrysler Building, an frankly, things were still pretty bleak cause we hadn't figured out how to create better monsters with radiation yet. An unfortunately for Bela Lugosi (but fortunately for us), he was just too dang foreign to ever get the opportunity to act in anything with socially redeemin' values, an was pretty well stuck doin' this kinda schlock. We all aughta thank Bela, rest his soul, cause without him these stinkers would be completely unwatchable, instead of just mostly unwatchable. So to pay my respects to Bela for everything he did for us (includin' the stuff we wish he wouldn't have), I'd like to share with you a few of the things I learned from this one that I wouldn't have been able to learn without 'im, cause frankly I'da been asleep without his hairy Romanian face. First, if you're a hairy ape man with a naturally occurin' furry suit, all you've gotta do to avoid detection is wear a nice sport coat an a fedora. This somehow makes the similarities between you an Wolfman Jack completely undetectable. Second, an inability to straighten out your spinal column is no reason to go on a killing spree. I mean, just look at Marilyn Chambers, she spent 35 years of 'er life bent over an it worked out pretty good for her. An third, when you're forced to walk all hunched over like a bar patron with way too much Tequila in your belly, there's just no hidin' your badonkadonk butt.
But what I'd like to talk about in depth has nothin' to do with Bela Lugosi, an more to do with how everybody in the movies was just too darn nice for their own good up until about 1970. I mean, the 40s an 50s seem like a quaint, wholesome time period that you might wanna visit, but would never wanna live in. Particularly if your skin tone's darker'n the annual growth rings on a Lodgepole pine stump. But like I was sayin', even the villains an their accomplices were so preoccupied with maintainin' proper social ettiquette that they felt like they ALWAYS hadda answer the door, even when they know it's gonna complicate their lives worse'n an unplanned teenage pregnancy. It would appear that the guy who invented pretendin' not to be home must not've gotten around to it until the early 70s, which prolly corresponds to the aggressive recruitment methods of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Everybody talks about that generation bein' a "simpler time," but they're full of it. Seriously, everybody was constantly keepin' up a false front so that nobody'd ever spot 'em passed out drunk in the driveway an ruin their reputation with a citywide shunning effort. Anybody out mowin' the lawn would HAVE to pretend to like their insufferably pretentious, pipe smokin', argyle sweater wearin' neighbor, when they walked over to discuss the battin' average of their equally unpleasant Little League enrolled offspring cause it was "the right thing to do." Apparently, pretendin' to be perfect an actin' like you'd never stoop to somethin' so immoral as soilin' Molly Steinman's dress at the drive-in was what made you a good person. Well you know what? That's a buncha horse hockey. We didn't become great as a nation until we finally snapped an found the inner strength necessary to tell the Andersons from across the street that we've hated playin' Bridge with 'em every Friday night since 1957, an that their pot roast tastes like a radial tire with road killed racoon shrapnel embedded in the tread. We may not be the collective bastions of magnanimity that we once were, but damnit, we've finally learned to be honest with each other. So the next time somebody over 55 tries tellin' you about the "good ole days," you go ahead an tell 'em that Ward Cleaver was gay an that June secretly drank a half bottle of bourbon a day just to have the strength to try holdin' their marriage together for the sake of The Beaver. Might even teach 'em somethin' about themselves.
The movie begins with these two newspaper guys (Jeff an Barney) loiterin' around the train station waitin' for Whistler's Mother (Agatha) to show up so they can shove cameras in 'er face an try to get 'er to say somethin' embarrassin' about 'er son's toilet trainin'. They also ask 'er about the disappearance of 'er brother (Bela Lugosi), an she hasta tell 'em that while she can't say for certain, she figures Bela's abandoned Mormon vampire harem from Transylvania finally got ahold of his address an forced 'im split before they could bleed 'im to death. Then Bela's lab assistant (George) drives 'er home an explains that Bela volunteered to be the guinea pig in their latest hair brained medical experiment an now all he wants to do is write 16 letters a day to Johnny Weissmuller an comb his face. So once they get to Bela's place an head downstairs into the set from The Phantom Creeps, George opens up another secret door to reveal Bela shackin' up with this gorilla floozy an lookin' like he just got back from gettin' a makeover at John Chambers' house. Meanwhile, Jeff's back at the newspaper listenin' to the only guy with enough clout to stop the presses tell 'im about how Barney's pictures of Agatha didn't turn out an that when he's done with 'im that guy's gonna be takin' baby pictures at Montgomery Ward. So the chief sends in his second string photographer (Billie) an we get to watch Jeff get all twitterpated an handle it with a level of poise and maturity seldom seen outside the elementary school playground, as he explains that mashin' the button on a camera is far too complicated a task for somebody of the female persuasion. Back at Bela's place, Bela's shootin' up with some more hominid heroine while obsessively checkin' 'imself out in the mirror like Sam Malone, hopin' this latest batch of simian serum'll help 'im shed his winter coat an finally end his unquenchable thirst for banana daiquiris. Unfortunately, the serum proves about as effective as supply side economics, an Bela gets real sad face an tells Agatha that his animal magnetism is startin' to kick into high gear an makin' it purt'near impossible not to go completely apeshit an climb the Chrysler Building. Even visitin' with Jane Goodall doesn't seem to cheer 'im up anymore, an the way he's got it figured, the only thing that can cure 'im is human spinal fluid. Only his so-called assistant won't go out an fetch 'im any cause removin' the fluid from somebody has the side effect of killin' 'em, an Bela's gettin' real P.O.'d about George ignorin' his chimpocratic oath. Then Jeff an Billie show up an Bela's cell mate starts gettin' rowdy, an he ends up havin' to spank the monkey so she'll settle down, while Agatha goes upstairs an acts like Zelda Rubinstein an asks the reporters if they'll critique 'er TAPS application, until Bela saunters upstairs like Roddy McDowell an accidentally photobombs Billie's pictures of Agatha.
Fortunately, nobody noticed his face peekin' through the window, but once the reporters've gone an Agatha hasta report that George is still refusin' to go out an engage in spinal tap rape to get the fluid, Bela flips out again an starts hurlin' beakers all over the lab until he decides to take off an elope with Zira. But first he hasta stop at George's place to demand a spinal column cocktail, cept while he's in the middle of his big "ape lives matter" speech some detectives show up an George hasta leave Bela fumin' in his study. Bela's P.O.'d, so while George is talkin' to the cops, he invites Mighty Joan Young to come through the window, an about that time George's butler walks into the room an gets his neck twisted into a Twizzler, allowin' Bela to collect his backbone broth. Course, by the time George gets back, Bela's split an headed back to the primate exhibit with the drape ape, so George hasta get the cops back out there, an once they start pokin' around they find a wad of hair in the butler's hand that looks like he'd just finished cleanin' out Lon Chaney's shower drain an they get this look on their faces like the TLC executives when they found out about Josh Duggar. Elsewhere, Jeff an Billie're over at the newspaper checkin' out their pictures, til they spot Bela beggin' for a banana in the corner of their prints an start figurin' out what was makin' the noise like somebody castratin' Bobcat Goldthwait while they were at Agatha's place. Unfortunately for Bela, he hasn't yet been blessed with the orangutan's arm proportions, an since he don't trust Agatha to shoot 'im up on account of 'er hands bein' shakier'n Elvis' pelvis, he gets 'er to hold George at gunpoint so he'll stick 'im up. George's gettin' real goll durn tired of bein' the monkey's uncle, but eventually decides to shave Bela's back til it's down to George "the Animal" Steele levels of fur an give 'im the shot so Bela won't go all Monkey with a Gun on 'im. The shot helps quite a bit, cause now Bela can straighten his back out an quit walkin' around like Quasimodo, but the effect doesn't last long an pretty quick he an Queen Kong hafta go out to get his vertebrae lube prescription refilled. So once Bela's had Makilla Gorilla put the squeeze on some bystanders to solicit donations he heads back to the lab, only his assistant/veterinarian's refusin' to play George of the Jungle anymore an Bela hasta strangle Agatha for bein' the bearer of bad news. Then Bela swings back over to George's place an threatens to sling poo all over his study til he agrees to give 'im his fix, but when Bela hands 'im the Super Sip jug an turns his back, George busts the bottle like he's about to settle a bar dispute an Bela is then heard to remark: "YOU MANIAC, YOU SCREWED IT UP!", before uncorkin' George's head. Meanwhile, Jeff an Billie've snuck separately into Bela's pad just about the time he's gettin' back from his failed acupuncture therapy, an once Bela spots Billie he gets this look on his face like a teenager gettin' to 2nd base for the first time. Gonna stop here, cause if I make one more monkey joke I'm afraid I might hafta punch myself. However, if you wanna make your own monkey jokes, it's in the public domain.
You ever get the feeling that these studios figured having Bela Lugosi on board would guarantee a great horror flick regardless of all the other factors? Like he had such a screen presence that even if they were to say, dress him up in a Wookie suit and tell him to walk around the set all hunched over like his spine'd snapped at a 90 degree angle, everything would still turn out great? Cause I get that impression sometimes, like, just about every time I watch one of his movies. I mean, the guy was a hell of an actor don't get me wrong, but one man cannot do everything on his own. You need help from the writers, and Bela very seldom seems to get any, for whatever reason. I can't think of a genre actor that got the shaft harder than Lugosi when you get right down to it, the man's talent was wasted in the majority of the movies he was in, and most of them are so bad that the most interesting aspect is how close Lugosi can come to successfully taking the entire burden of entertaining the audience onto his shoulders a la Atlas, to try making something out of nothing. This is an extremely difficult goal to undertake, and is almost always doomed to failure when the movie's as old as this one, but you almost feel like you've got to finish it no matter how bad it is out of respect for the guy, and what was essentially a wasted career. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of movies out there that're worse than The Ape Man, but it's pretty tough to take seriously these days due to that tired old killer ape nonsense. The discovery of the gorilla was relatively recent at the time, and I'd imagine that to an audience of people who were rather resistant to the idea of apes being our ancestors, it made for a great monster due to the fact that it was a real animal. Of course, as is usually the case, the population eventually becomes properly educated enough to understand a situation, and once they came to realize that apes are pretty placid creatures, they no longer worked as monsters. Unless they were supersized, I mean. I will say that the movie doesn't drag terribly, although you can thank the runtime for that more than anything. The places where it tends to slow down generally involve the two reporters, whom the director feels the need to check in on fairly often so we won't forget that women aren't capable of a whole lot. Not terribly unusual for the time, and this certainly wasn't anywhere near the worst example I've seen of it, but it's still pretty insulting - if rather funny when you look at it as an antiquated period piece. I'd imagine that 30 or 40 years down the road, movies that contain even this level of sexism will either be utterly hilarious, or possibly even impossible for an audience to relate to, as they'll have grown up without much exposure to that sort of behavior. Then, we, the toothless old men in our 80s, will have to explain it to them and they'll chalk our explanation up to senility.
In any event, let's see how much backbone this thing's got after we drain all the fluid out an twist its head around like a He-Man action figure. The plot is alright, looking at the big picture. Obviously when you examine the details there's more nonsensical movie science than you can shake a stick at, but if you're able to greatly suspend your disbelief, you may be able to avoid causin' permanent damage to the cartilage in your nose via facepalm. You could suggest that maybe the crew was even somewhat progressive for choosing an ape for its test subject to make the whole gene splicing aspect slightly more believable, given that apes are our closest genetic match on the planet and would be better suited for these kinds of experiments than other animals. You could say that, but I think they were just sticking with the ape because it was the go to monster of the time. You've gotta be careful not to overthink this stuff, cause if you think about it too long your brain cells'll actually start committin' suicide. The acting is alright for the time, with Bela Lugosi doing what he can with what he's got and actually succeeding at creating a certain amount of sympathy for his character. Minerva Urecal gives the only other amusing performance as the slightly off kilter Agatha, with the rest of the cast coming off as either boring or outright obnoxious. Actually, that's not quite true, because the guy in the gorilla costume does a damn decent job of articulating the kind of movements you'd expect to see from an ape. Of course, it's a grown man inside the suit, so when he and Bela go out for a night on the town, they're pretty much the same size, which is of course impossible and rather hilarious to watch.
Here (less Bela Lugosi, whom some of you might be familiar with) is who matters and why: Louise Currie (Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Masked Marvel, Voodoo Man), Wallace Ford (Freaks, The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, Night of Terror), Henry Hall (The Flying Serpent, Voodoo Man, The Mad Monster, The Ape, Shadow of Chinatown, The Phantom Empire), Minerva Urecal (The Corpse Vanishes, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Ape), J. Farrell MacDonald (Superman and The Mole-Men, Pillow of Death, Woman Who Came Back, The Living Ghost, The Ghost Breaker), Wheeler Oakman (Torture Ship, Buck Rogers 1939, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, The Phantom Empire), Ralph Littlefield (The Monster that Challenged the World, Voodoo Man, The Living Ghost), Jack Mulhall (The She-Creature, Invisible Ghost, Black Friday 1940, Buck Rogers 1939, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, Undersea Kingdom), Charles Jordan (Cat People 1942), Charlie Hall (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939, King Kong), George Kirby (The Invisible Man Returns, Dracula's Daughter, Werewolf of London), Ernest Morrison (Spooks Run Wild), William Ruhl (The Brute Man, The Mad Ghoul, The Mummy's Tomb, Invisible Agent, Black Friday 1940). Only two members of the cast ever landed a significant role in a mainstream feature, those being Wallace Ford when he played Fred Saunders in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, and J. Farrell MacDonald who portrayed The Photographer in the 1927 film, Sunrise.
The special effects, for the time, are pretty decent. Course, there're only two special effects, but given the time period it's nice that there're any at all. Bela Lugosi's furry getup looks convincing enough, except for the fact that it makes him look like a werewolf rather than an ape man. He walked hunched over to try furthering the effect, but there's really no getting over the fact that his look is still far more akin to a werewolf. The only other effect is the gorilla suit that Bela's cell mate is wearing, which is alright for 1943, but not so hot 70 years after the fact. Some of its shortcomings are helped a great deal by the movements of the actor in the suit, who makes a gallant effort at portraying the gorilla in a realistic manner. Still, the suit is pretty dated and difficult to take seriously. The shooting locations aren't too bad, with the primary set being Bela's laboratory. Although he really should've reconsidered making the stairway that steep if he was plannin' to transform into somethin' that walks leaned over all the time. Pretty good, though, we've got lots of bubbling beakers and adequate science stuff around, as well as the primate cage where his test subjects are housed. The other sets are just boring interiors, but I'd call it a net positive for the shooting locations since the majority of the movie takes place in Bela's lab. Second best aspect of the movie, behind the acting. The soundtrack is typical of the time, and not especially mood enhancing. However, watching this one you can begin to see the point in cinematic history where the soundtrack actually started getting a little more air time when compared to the horror flicks of the 30s. There's still not a lot of music, but there's probably at least a few minutes worth during the actual movie, as opposed to just having a goofy, light-hearted short piece playing over the opening credits. Here, we've got a few segments with marginally forbidding horns, and later woodwinds, so even though it's only slightly effective at generating some atmosphere, it's interesting to see the progression of the soundtrack as a concept. Overall, pretty old and dusty for my liking, even though what really blew it for me was the ending. Didn't care for the way it was ended at all, pretty well wrecked what little enjoyment I got out of it up to that point. So I really can't recommend this to anybody besides the Lugosi completists, and the killer ape movie competists.