Made in 1959, The Man and the Monster (El hombre y el monstruo) is one of the neglected classics of Mexican gothic horror. Like so many great Mexican gothic movies it was produced by Abel Salazar (his brother Alfredo co-wrote the screenplay).
A music critic, Ricardo Souto (Abel Salazar), comes across a musician who mysteriously disappeared some years earlier. The musician is Samuel Magno (Enrique Rambal). Magno had never had the talent to realise his ambition to become a great pianist, but his pupil Alejandra (Martha Roth) did have the necessary talent. Consumed with jealousy Samuel sold his soul to Satan in exchange for the talent he lacked. He is now the greatest pianist in the world, but whenever he plays the piano he becomes a monster. Literally becomes a monster. And it is not only his appearance that changes; he becomes a cold-blooded killer, intent on destroying anyone he sees as a threat, in other words anyone with musical talent.
Samuel lives in solitude, playing the piano only at night and secretly.
Now Samuel Magno has another pupil as promising as Alejandra. Her name is Laura. She not only has as much ability as Alejandra, she also bears her an uncanny resemblance (not surprising since she is also played by Martha Roth).
Laura is about to make her concert debut, but will Samuel be able to cope with the fact that she is a greater pianist than he is?
The one weakness of this film is the makeup effects for the monster, which look rather comical and may spoil this movie for some people. If you can get past that this is actually a very fine piece of gothic horror. The musical theme may suggest some link with The Phantom of the Opera but the story is quite different. It does have a similar theme though, a man whose hideous appearance prevents his talent from being recognised.
Director Rafael Baledón helmed another Mexican gothic classic, the excellent Curse of the Crying Woman (which was also produced by Abel Salazar). He does a fine job here. The black-and-white cinematography, as in all the Mexican gothic horror pictures of the 50s, is moody and atmospheric.
Like other Mexican movies of this type it owes a considerable stylistic debt to the great Universal horror movies of the 30s (a debt Abel Salazar freely acknowledged).
Enrique Rambal is very good as Samuel. Martha Roth does well in her dual roles. Abel Salazar was less significant as an actor than as a producer but he makes an acceptable hero.
There is no leal love story here, the movie being focused rather tightly on the theme of artistic obsession.
The Casanegra DVD, like all their releases, looks magnificent. Sadly it has fewer extras than most of their releases.
A fine horror movie, and like the best of the Universal movies it is more effective in creating atmosphere and a tragic mood than in providing outright scares. Highly recommended.