One of the great things about the popularity of DVDs is that many films
and TV shows which never saw the light of day on video tape are now turning
up on DVD. One company that releases such niche material is CasaNegra,
a small company that specializes in Mexican horror films. Their
latest release is The Man and the Monster (El Hombre y el Monstruo,
1958) an atmospheric 'Jekyll and Hyde' film that is quite good and well worth watching.
reporter for a music magazine (Abel Salazar) has tracked the reclusive
pianist Samuel Manning (Enrique Rambal) to a small town in Mexico.
Manning was one of the best concert pianists in the world when he suddenly
stopped performing and all but disappeared. The reporter does get
to meet Manning and the attractive prodigy he's training, Laura (Martha
Roth), but the pianist is oddly quite about his career. The only thing
that he reveals is that he can no longer play because his hands shake.
He quickly stops talking however when his creepy mother shows up and demands
that the reporter leave. After everyone departs, Manning begs his
mother to let him play the piano, something she doesn't want him to do. He then starts talking to a closet, begging whoever or whatever is inside
to convince his mother to let him play.
Later Laura sneaks out and meets with the reporter and admits that Manning
can still play. Every night she is locked into her room and she hears
Manning playing the piano. He's still every bit the virtuoso that
he was when he toured. Even better.
turns out that Manning was only the second best pianist in the world, and
that wasn't something that he could settle for. During a concert
of his rival, Manning sells his soul to the devil in exchange for being
the premier pianist in the world. He gets his wish, but at a price; now every time
Manning plays the piano he turns into a blood thirsty monster.
This is a surprisingly well constructed film. It starts with a
car wreck and a girl being killed by the (unseen) monster even before the
beginning credits roll. The mystery of what happened to the girl
and what's going on at Manning's creepy house gets deeper when the locals
reveal that they think his mother is a witch and the odd way that the pianist
talks to the closet is strange but compelling. Though the plot borrows heavily from Faust,
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even The Wolfman, it adds enough unique twists
to hold viewers interest.
One unexpected thing is that The Man and the Monster is superior
to a majority of the monster films that were being produced in the US at
the time. While it has a similar plot and quality of cast to the
horror films that many poverty row studios cranked out in the late 50's,
this film is nice and atmospheric, creating an eerie feeling for most of
its running time. Though it was made on a tight budget, there are
several small touches, like the black cat that Manning's dour mother is
always holding, that give the picture an uncanny feeling.
Rafael Baledon was able to throw in some interesting shots in this film
too, which really add to the quality of the finished product. When
Manning kills his rival the murder takes place off screen. The only
thing the viewers get to see is the victim's horrified look in a small
mirror placed on a table. The way Manning sold his soul to the devil
was well done too. Set in a surrealist environment standing under
an oddly shaped set of arches, Manning prays to Satan and only hears thunder
as a reply. Avoiding a fire-and-brimstone appearance of Lucifer was
a good idea. It would have just looked bad. This simple yet
creative method of showing the deal worked very well.
That is not to say that everything was great about the film. The
monster himself looked like a poor-man's wolfman. They even did the
same time lapse photography that was in the Lon Chaney Universal picture,
but less effectively. It was nice to see Manning's character change
when he was the monster, but Rambal's depiction of the fiend was a bit
over the top. His roaring and raising his hairy hands in a menacing
way was surely dated even when the movie was made. Today it looks
nearly laughable. Even so, this is a fairly effective suspense movie
that works in more places than it fails.
This DVD comes in a clear Amray case with a reversible cover.
One side has the text in English, the other in Spanish. The only
complaint I have is that the image on the cover, a close up of a mummy
type creature, doesn't appear in the movie at all. While I agree
that a picture of the monster would do little to convince people to buy
the disc, putting a picture of another monster on the DVD is false advertising.
The Mono Spanish soundtrack was surprisingly clear. There was
no hiss at normal listening levels and distortion was also absent.
The dialog is clear and the while the movie doesn't have a wide dynamic
range the piano music sounds fine. There are optional English subtitles
The full frame black and white video has been restored and looks great,
especially for a film from Mexico that was made nearly 50 years ago.
The contrast was very good. None of the scenes were washed out, nor
were they too dark and murky. Some of the finer details do disappear
into the black areas but this wasn't a major problem. Aside
from that the level of detail was very good. Digitally the film also
looks great. There weren't any compression artifacts either making
this a great looking disc.
Casa Negri has included a few bonus features too. There is a poster
and stills gallery, text cast biographies, and reel of Mexican horror movie
posters (from 1950 to 1975). There is also a US radio spot advertising
the film's US release in the late 60's. It was featured on a double
bill with The Bloody Vampire.
CasaNega has done a wonderful job with this disc. The picture
and audio are much better than I was expecting and the film itself is a
surprising find. If you enjoy old horror movies you owe it to yourself
to check this one out. While it does have some camp sections and
it won't send a chill up your spine like the latest Miike film, it is a
very good film. Highly Recommended.