It's a loose adaptation of The Island of Dr Moreau. However more importantly it's a landmark in the cinema of the Philippines.
Quick history lesson. The Philippines used to have a world-beating exploitation movie industry, with Roger Corman taking full advantage of its exotic locations, cheap labour and no health and safety regulations. Blood, boobs and martial arts midgets! Awesome. For more information, see Machete Maidens Unleashed, which I've also watched and is strongly recommended. However the juicy stuff didn't begin until the late 1960s, or as far as Corman was concerned the 1970s.
In the 1950s we just had seeds being sown. The pioneer was Lynn-Romero Productions, set up by a Filipino filmmaker (Eddie Romero) and an American TV consultant (Kane W. Lynn), with the plan of making English-language films to show in America. The Philippines had been making 350 films a year since World War Two, but none of them had ever got foreign distribution. Lynn-Romero only made three movies, mind you. Two of them were (unsuccessful) war films, but the third was horror. Ironically it flopped in 1959, but did well enough in 1964 when rereleased as Blood Creature that Eddie Romero decided he'd found a winning formula and the lurid floodgates opened.
This though is a black-and-white 1950s film with proper actors and atmospheric cinematography. It's classy. The only problem is that it's slow and gets boring in the middle.
The story is fundamentally Dr Moreau, but it's also a lot like Frankenstein. Our Moreau-substitute (Francis Lederer) hasn't built a slave society of talking animals on his island. There's no Speaker of the Law. He's nowhere near that level. Instead he's just got one bandage-swaddled Beast-Man, in his basement. Every so often it'll escape and kill, but that's the price you pay for scientific progress. It's Frankenstein, basically. The only reason this isn't regarded as a Frankenstein film is the admittedly important factor that Lederer's raw ingredients weren't corpses but animals. Its thinking also isn't as deep H.G. Wells's, with Richard Derr capable of saying the Beast-Man is a man with a soul and then in the next breath that "inside he's a beast, a killer."
The Beast-Man's pretty good. It doesn't gets much action until the third act, but there's an upside to that. It gives its few appearances more weight. However the downside of course is that the film can get slow and talky, with the most boring bits involving a staid love triangle involving Lederer's wife (Greta Thyssen) and Derr.
Act Three's better, though, i.e. violent.
As a production, it's far better than I'd expected. They've brought in real actors, for a start. Lederer had been a major star of European silent movies, kept working until the week he died (aged 100) and was highly respected both for his stage and screen work. Thyssen was a former Miss Denmark, best known for her movies with the Three Stooges, although she's sometimes upstaged by her breasts. As for Derr, his work includes When Worlds Collide, Star Trek and American Gigolo. I liked Derr, for some reason especially in the scene where he's chatting to the Filipino boy.
Lederer is interesting, though. He's even less villainous than Brando in 1996. He's a normal guy living with his wife in the Philippines. It hasn't occurred to him that there's anything dubious about his project, he's completely open about it to Derr and he thinks his wife and sidekick "don't understand". When Derr expresses an interest, Lederer's delighted to show him everything and discuss anything Derr might want to know. He means no harm. He's even fond of his Beast-Man and sympathetic towards its plight. Lederer's subtle performance reflects all that, even if he didn't quite manage to sell me on that brain size technobabble. That was always going to be an uphill task, though.
Visually the film's strong too. The Philippines look great, while the black-and-white cinematography is better and moodier than a Hammer film of the same vintage. Gerardo de Leon had been working since the early 1930s and was considered one of the best directors they had in the Philippines.
Overall, I didn't like it. It starts and ends well, but it lost me in the middle. Nevertheless it's way classier than its successors and it's being done with integrity. It makes you feel for the monster. It's staid, but that shouldn't be a shock with a 1950s black-and-white horror film. It gets respect.