Anne GwynneGloria CastilloChuck CourtneyNorman Leavitt
Teenage Monster
Medium: film
Year: 1958
Director: Jacques R. Marquette
Writer: Ray Buffum
Keywords: horror, SF, Western
Country: USA
Actor: Anne Gwynne, Stuart Wade, Gloria Castillo, Chuck Courtney, Gil Perkins, Norman Leavitt, Gabe Mooradian
Format: 65 minutes
Website category: Horror pre-1970
Review date: 2 August 2002
Stuart Wade: "You should have someone to stay with you all the time."
Anne Gwynne: "You mean I should have more respect for your twenty-foot monster?"
I bought Teenage Monster on a DVD double feature with The Brain From Planet Arous, but watched the latter film first and found it fairly boring. Teenage Monster is far more entertaining - bad in all the best ways, with a damn good story bubbling along underneath. There are plot twists, complete bastards, betrayal, lies, murder and the world's most dementedly faithful mother! Cool!
The badness begins immediately, which is just what the doctor ordered. You want a certain level of badness in something like this. No adult today would watch this kind of movie except ironically. You see the title, rub your hands in expectation and stick it in the DVD player. Sure enough, it delivers. The opening scene gives us Anne Gwynne as Ruth, acting her little heart out but helpless with two co-stars not good enough even for an amateur village production. A meteor lands, i.e. the camera zooms towards a big sparkler. There's melodramatic music. Ruth puts a hand to her mouth... DA DA DAAAH! And best of all is the Teenage Monster himself, courtesy of legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce, creator of the original Boris Karloff make-up in Frankenstein and The Mummy but who was clearly having a giggle with this one.
However underneath all that nonsense are some great characters. The acting is very much a mixed bag, but it's there when it counts so you can take the important bits semi-seriously.
The Teenage Monster (Charles) is much like Frankenstein's creation, except that his mother loves him. He's supposedly in his teens, but rays from a mysterious meteor (gotta love those mysterious meteors) accelerated his physical development while retarding him intellectually. He's a big lad and looks forty under all that hair, but he's barely capable of speech or of stringing two thoughts together. He squeaks and whines like a puppy you've nailed to the floor, while his actions are almost entirely ruled by emotion and drives he doesn't understand and can't control.
Some of those drives lead him to kill people. He doesn't know why and neither do we; all we know is that every so often his mother comes back to his hidden cave to find he's beaten someone to death. Her reactions to such tragedies are... weird. Ruth's mother love has almost overridden any sense of morality. She doesn't hide the bodies, but neither does she seem too worried about them. She just tells her son he's a very naughty boy and he should go to his room. I was *fascinated* by this. Later on, when Charles abducts a young woman, Ruth offers her money and tries to make her live with them forever.
However the Monster has other drives. We first see him spying on a flock of sheep, then soon afterwards he tells his mother that he did something bad. "Mumble mumble sheep mumble." Hmmmm... His love for his mother is so jealous as to suggest incestuous overtones, while later he kidnaps a young woman and takes her home for nervous fumblings. One of his lethal assaults on a man also looks rather suggestive. Given that the Teenage Monster has a mental age of four, this is incredibly dodgy.
Soon the plot's under way and thankfully all the hilariously bad acting is confined to the first half of the film. It's a great plot! I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, with its twist and counter-twist of lies, murder and some juicily hissable villains. When one character meets their richly deserved fate, you'll cheer.
And I haven't even mentioned the setting! Teenage Monster is set in the Old West, in 1880. It's a sedate little town with no injun problems or cattle-rustlers, but all those period dresses and cowboys on horseback add a bit of class to proceedings. Wow, are those actual production values? I must be dreaming. But no, this aspect of the film looks genuinely good, perhaps because we've seen so many black-and-white cowboy movies that this is how we expect 'em to look.
Wholeheartedly recommended. Full of giggle-factor first time round, but once past the production values I think repeat viewings will only increase your respect for a kick-arse storyline. Deserves a look from anyone who thinks big-budget filmmaking is overrated. Hell, it deserves a remake!