Directed by: George Waggner (The Wolf Man)
Starring: Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Peggy Moran / Lon Chaney Jr., Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel
The movie year of 1941 was probably the best one that director George Waggner — a solid craftsman, if not a particularly inspired one — ever had. In rapid succession, he knocked out Horror Island, Man Made Monster, and The Wolf Man. There’s no doubt that the last in the list is his best known, but in all honesty, I’ll take Man Made Monster over it any day of the week. That, of course, leaves Horror Island the odd film out. It always tends to get lost in the shuffle and that’s too bad because this little 60-minute thriller is solid and a lot of fun. (It may be more fun than The Wolf Man.) Its “problem” is that it’s really more a hybrid of a mystery and the “old dark house” movie — only in this case it’s an old dark castle, but it amounts to much of the same thing. There’s no supernatural or fantastic element, though there is a mysterious caped figure called “The Phantom” (played by an obscure actor with the great name of Foy Van Dolsen). Atmosphere makes up for much, as does the Hans Salter score, a clever script with bright dialogue and a first-rate cast. The leads are the very pleasant Dick Foran and Peggy Moran, who’d already teamed up for The Mummy’s Hand (1940). The great Leo Carrillo is on hand as a peg-legged seafaring man with a treasure map. The rest of the cast couldn’t be better: Fuzzy Knight, Walter Catlett, Lewis Howard (doing a reprise of his uber-lazy role from the 1939 Deanna Durbin movie First Love), Iris Adrian (“Buncha nitwits — got nothin’ else to do but run around and play games!”) and Hobart Cavanaugh. Really, what’s not to like?
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has already shown Man Made Monster once before. Find that review here: http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/man_made_monster_night_monster
In Brief: A pair of early 1940s Universal horrors from director George Waggner, Horror Island is more of a fun mystery set in an old dark castle that benefits from atmosphere and a perfect cast (not to mention the Hans J. Salter score), while Man Made Monster is a first-rate little horror film that proved the template for most of the studio’s 1940s outputs — and prepped Lon Chaney Jr. for horror stardom.