Weird Westerns: Teenage Monster (1958)


A boy is turned into a hairy monster in the Old West by a passing meteor and spends the rest of the film killing cattle, gibbering, and being used as a tool of murder by a young psychopath.

by Max Sparber

"Teenage Monster" is a rather old-school monster movie, in that the monster is just an actor with some hair pasted to him that runs around and sometimes swats people on the head or chokes them for a while, which kills them.

The monster is, indeed, supposed to be a teenager. At the start of the movie we meet him as a boy, not yet a monster, at his parent's house somewhere in the Old West. His father owns a mine, and, while helping out, both are irradiated by a meteor that passes overhead.

The father is killed — quite horribly, we gather, based on the genuinely mortified reaction of his grieving widow, played by Anne Gwynne, who throws more of herself into the role than it really demanded. Gwynne was the grandmother of actor Chris Pine, by the way, so strange stories based on things flying around in space is in his blood.

Gwynne's son survives, but turns into a monster in rather crisp Levis, long hair, and a flowing beard, looking a bit like Wolfman Jack went to a dog grooming place to get his hair blown out. For some reason, the film's producers, Dale Tate and Jacques R. Marquette (who also directed) decided to replace the monster's dialogue in the film, which seems to have been considerable, with gibbering noises. I don't know whether this improved or ruined the film, but it certainly made it memorable.

Gwynne keeps her teenage monster locked up in his bedroom while she continues to work the mine, doing a better job with the latter than the former: She strikes gold, but her son keeps sneaking off to snack on cattle and kill people. At one point, he even kidnaps a young woman, played Gloria Castillo — she started her career playing Ruby, the older girl in "Night of the Hunter" who develops a crush on Robert Mitchum's murderous priest. She went on to play roles like that throughout her career, playing either opposite cowboys, monsters, or juvenile delinquents. Here she does all three.

Gwynne hires Castillo to be a sort of babysitter to the monster, paying her too much money. Unfortunately for her, Castillo has a heel of a boyfriend who dresses in the cowboy equivalent of a Teddy Boy costume, and he steals the money from her.

Unfortunately for him, Castillo turns out to be the film's actual teenage monster, a cool-tempered psychopath enlisted the hairy beast she is babysitting to kill him, and anyone she takes issue with, which, she strongly hints, could be anyone, anytime.

It all ends on a cliffside, with various characters plummeting off one after the other, which ends up being visually impressive. I don't have much else to say about the film, except that I sort of feel that after the second person falls off a cliff and a third person tries to jump after them you might as well go whole hog and have everyone in the film take a leap, one after the other, lemming-like.

It would have been preposterous, but no more so than the gibbering.


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