Last night there was a serious bus crash where the vehicle smashed into a pylon and electrocuted the driver and five passengers. Well, not all the passengers died, for Dan McCormick (Lon Chaney Jr) survived in a remarkably healthy condition. This could be down to his job, where he performs as Dan the Dynamo Man for customers at fairgrounds around the country, and although he claims his act is only a set of tricks, he does seem to have built up a resistance to electricity. While he's in hospital and eager to leave, his story catches the attention of local scientists - could he be useful in their experiments?
Could be, although that depends on your concept of useful and if it includes any murderous rampages. Man Made Monster was the film that set Lon Chaney Jr on his run of horror roles, and is believed to have been the part that secured him his most celebrated character in The Wolf Man later that same year as Universal saw his potential more for the chiller end of the market than the more leading character actor ones. Here he is set up in a fashion that would become typical: not inherently evil, but cursed by fickle fate to become a monster against his will, the tragic figure of horror that he would continually return to.
Not that he had much choice after a while, it was either that or versions of his Lennie from Of Mice and Men role he was destined for. Here he's a mix between the lummox with a sunny disposition and the bringer of death as Dan is taken to the country mansion of Dr Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds) and his live in colleague Dr Rigas (scenery chewing Lionel Atwill). It is Rigas who is the true villain of the piece, as we perceive that Dan is not such a bad chap because the pet dog Corky likes him a lot, and a sentimental streak develops early on when the pooch has mixed feelings about him when the experiments get underway and Dan is electrolised (or whatever the term is).
So Corky shies away from Dan after he's been strapped to the table in Rigas' lab - and what a lab it is, the perfect home for the mad scientist about town with its abundance of bzzt things - and had a few thousand volts blasted through his body. Man Made Monster is often referred to as a horror movie, but it could equally be seen as a science fiction movie that was looking forward to the genre boom of the next decade, so perhaps this was less a throwback to the Frankenstein-influenced efforts of the thirties, and more an anticipation of things to come. Still, mad science was yet a popular subject in this field, so it could have been of its time.
If only Lon had been playing a giant spider then that question would have been definitively answered. Anyway, back at the plot and Dan has been sufficiently charged to be able to kill goldfish, so it's only a matter of time before he graduates to bumping off humans. His first victim? Not Dr Lawrence, the man who took him in? But yes, although we're set straight that Dan is acting against his will and it's Dr Rigas who has forced him to murder the kindly old gent. A trial results, and Dan is sent to the electric chair - but you can guess how that one turns out. Corky still has faith in him, though, leading to a poignant ending in a film that in its unassuming, get the job done technique never wears out its welcome and has won its way into the hearts of many vintage shocker fans over the years. It's no classic, but it is unexpectedly endearing.