The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957)

I suppose you could call this one a scientific vampire story.

Or perhaps a women in prison film.

Although to be fair the prison is more of a low-security home for wayward girls sort of place, more like one of the old State Hospitals than anything the word “Prison” would conjure up, with several separate buildings and extensive grounds, with only a security guard at the main gate and a handful of Matrons.

And our scientific vampires aren’t actually after blood.

But all is not well here, and the girls are secretly terrified.  They’ve heard screaming in the night, and every time they’ve heard it, one of the girls is dead the next day, apparently of a heart attack.

Carol Adams, the new staff psychologist, is not happy with the latest death, and tries to report her concerns to the local authorities, only they seem inclined to accept the Director, Dr. Murdock’s suggestion that she was too busy putting on a movie for the girls to do her job.

However, they do send Dr. Rogers to check on the story, and he also suspects there is something wrong.

And, as he is young and handsome, we all know he’s going to be the hero…

Women in prison films had not yet become a big thing at the time this one came out, although Juvenile Delinquent films were doing quite well.  Certainly that seems to be where this one fits in, complete with sassy girls and bubble gum.

Not that we’re given too much of that.  Or much of anything else as this is fairly brisk — and short — film, in classic B-Movie style.

I have to admit that I like the somewhat unlikely combination of high tech machines and a bit of chemistry with talk about stealing someone’s life force and the legendary Count St. Germain, who supposedly dabbled in occultism and alchemy.  One might ask how they carried out these technological revivals back in the Eighteenth century, when they wouldn’t have had electric power or electronics, but the movie doesn’t, so, sorry, no answer to that one.

But what we do have is Victor Jory as Dr. Murdock.  Jory had a fifty year career in the movies, which ranged from a few early parts in major movies, to serials, B-Movies and lots of TV.  He had a lot of great parts in minor films: I remember him best as The Shadow in the 1940 movie serial, although many of you will be more familiar with his appearance in Cat Women in the Moon.  He is perhaps the best part of the film, giving a suave, charming and yet often sinister performance.  It’s a shame he didn’t get to do more horror and science fiction roles.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this one is that it was produced by the notoriously cheap Sam Katzman.  His films are not merely cheap, but cheap in inept ways that ended up undermining the whole film, like his decision to replace a stop motion monster with a puppet created by a Mexican sculptor in The Giant Claw (1957).  In 1957 alone, he would churn out another eight films.  And it’s really a shame because there are quite a few good ideas running around here which would have made this a far better film had they been developed a bit more, like the way the skin of those who’ve had their lives prolonged gets harder as they near death, becoming like stone.

The Man Who Turned to Stone did manage a few good moments along the way, even with Sam on board.  The best of these are the subtle transformations which take place as the effects of the revivification process wear off, which were done using the same trick they used when Spencer Tracy played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

And I have to admit that the lumbering Eric who kidnaps girls for the scientists is effective and a bit scary.

In a minor sort of way.

I suppose “minor” is really the word we need here.  Pleasantly minor.  The Man Who Turned to Stone is not one of the better horror and science fiction films of the era, but it is enjoyable enough if you don’t ask too much of it.  I was in the mood for something Fifties-ish and not too demanding, and it fit the bill.  It even provided a few minor thrills and a bit of mad science.

And then there is that great final moment, when Victor Jory meets his fate in a totally unexpected way.

It makes you wish he’d done a lot more of these films…

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And why CGI looks so horrible these days…

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