One of my favorite actors of all time is Bela Lugosi. He will always be Dracula to me, but he has turned in many other great performances, as well. He is sadly underappreciated by today’s film viewers. Today’s film came 12 years after “Dracula.” The monster he plays here is not nearly as iconic as the famous bloodsucker, but Lugosi still turns in a great performance. It’s 1943’s “The Ape Man.”
The film begins with Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall) awaiting the arrival of Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal) by ship. She is the spinster-ish sister of his fellow scientist, Dr James Brewster (Lugosi). Reports have been circulating in the newspapers of Dr. Brewster’s disappearance, so Agatha has come to meet with his assistant. A group of reporters are also waiting at the docks, among them Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford). A strange grinning man points out to Carter the arrival of Miss Brewster, and he immediately jumps at the chance to ask some questions.
After shaking the reporters, Randall informs Agatha that Brewster is not missing, but has fallen victim to a mishap of his own research. When they return to Brewster’s lab, she discovers the truth. For some unknown reason, Brewster was experimenting with apes and has been transformed into an Ape Man. He walks around hunched over, lets his arms swing around, and is in desperate need of a shave. For the most part, though, he’s pretty normal…still able to think and function like himself. Brewster even thinks he knows the solution to his problem…an injection of human spinal fluid. Problem is, it needs to be fresh. In other words, someone needs to die in order to save Brewster. Randall refuses to take part in this, so Brewster takes matters into his own hands. He kills Randall’s butler and forces Randall to give him the injection. It works for a short time, but Brewster soon learns he must kill again to have enough to make the change permanent.
Meanwhile, reporter Jeff Carter is back at work at the paper. Carter often pursues unusual stories…ghost stories, if you will…and he is anxious to get his new photographer and head off to the Brewster mansion to continue his talk with Agatha, who happens to be known as a medium of some sort. But when he ends up with female photographer Billie Mason (Louise Currie), he just doesn’t know how to react. The two end up conducting their interview with Agatha, but later on discover a strange image in one of the pictures they took of her. Something that seems like an ape reflected on the wall behind her. At the same time, the reporters begin to catch wind of strange killings that seem like they have been caused by a large creature…like an ape. And so, the hunt is on as Brewster becomes more and more bloodthirsty.
Lugosi’s Ape Man character certainly won’t ever be listed in the pantheon of great movie monsters. To be honest, it’s a little bit silly. The main ape-like quality he shows is an abundance of hair. However, Lugosi does a good job of playing a mad scientist who will save himself at any cost. Lugosi truly stands out among the other actors, who are pretty stiff. It’s definitely not his best performance, but Lugosi still brings that creepy fire behind the eyes that he excelled at.
The whole B story of the film, involving the reporters, was pretty much unnecessary and seems to only have been put in as an excuse to have an attractive young lady in the cast. I couldn’t help but wonder if this part of the film served as the inspiration for the characters played by Robert Wuhl and Kim Bassinger in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” In that film you also have a hot-shot reporter who covers strange, supernatural type stories joined by a new curvacious female photographer. Unfortunately, here those characters are pretty annoying.
Now, we’ve had several films in this Halloween series that have had strange twist endings and this is another one. Again, I don’t want to give it away, but there is a very strange thing tacked on to the end of this one. A real groaner…don’t let it spoil the rest of the film for you.
I can’t really heap high praise on “The Ape Man,” but Bela Lugosi always make a movie interesting. It’s still creepy, low-budget fun.