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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Man and the Monster
The Man and the Monster
Panik House // Unrated // April 24, 2007
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 7, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

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.

A 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.

It 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.

Director 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.

The DVD:


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.

Audio:

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 included.

Video:

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.

Extras:

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.
 

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