On this day, half a century ago, in the very busy Frankenstein year of 1958, American International Pictures released How To Make a Monster.
In retrospect, the film plays like a fond farewell to the AIP era of teen-centric monster movies, reuniting its Teenage Werewolf and Frankenstein in a fourth-wall skirting story about a Hollywood studio closing down its horror movie department. In fact, AIP would soon abandon its drive-in roots for the comparatively rarified air of the Poe-Corman-Price gothics.
Muscle-bound Gary Conway returns as the scramble-faced Teenage Frankenstein and Gary Clarke steps in as the dog-nose lycanthrope, replacing the original Teenage Werewolf, Michael Landon, who wanted to move on to more serious fare. An earnest Robert H. Harris plays a mad makeup man who uses drugged cosmetics and hypnosis to zombify his young monster actors into killing studio suits. For its blazing climax, the film abruptly switches from black & white to full color, a trick first used to good effect in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). Ten brisk minutes of color footage was sufficient for the producers to advertise “Ghastly Ghouls in Flaming Color!” on the film’s garish posters.
It was truly the end of an era as the final fire scene sacrifices the monster masks — mostly the work of the great Paul Blaisdell — used in celebrated Fifties AIP horrors like The She Creature and The Invasion of the Saucer Men.
How To Make a Monster was remade, in name only, in 2001.
There’s an excellent website devoted to producer Herman Cohen, featuring posters, lobby cards and behind-the-scenes stills from his movies, including How To Make a Monster. Here's the trailer for the film.
Here’s a link to a good interview, conducted by Tom Weaver, where Cohen discusses this film.
Ray Young, on the Flickhead blog, reflected on director Herbert L. Strock and the film’s possible gay subtext.
The film is available on DVD, backed with another Cohen/Strock collaboration, Blood of Dracula (1957).