Horror movie mad scientists are often creating some sort of monstrous hybrids in their secret labs/lairs. Their genius misunderstood by their less ambitious colleagues, they are driven underground where their single-minded quest for scientific knowledge or world domination inadvertently or purposely causes disaster, which *spoiler alert!* never ends well for the scientist.
Horror movies aren't exactly a good place to learn about what doing science is really like, but they do a pretty good job of reflecting our society's anxieties and fears. Over time the scientists, the experiments, and the monsters change along with our cultures, our enemies, and our relationships to new science and technology. In Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie, historian and film theorist Andrew Tudor discusses how horror movie science changed over the course of the twentieth century, providing us with this interesting graph of the percentage of science-based horror movies compared to the whole genre:
As science and technology began to play a larger and larger role in our lives and our and economy, science and mad scientists played smaller and smaller roles in horror movies. Fears of evil scientists and deliberate monster-making give way to fears of unintentional consequences of new technologies, monsters created through accidental mutation caused by radiation or pollution.
I've recently been watching a funny subgenre of horror films that has got me thinking about all this. Somehow my husband and I decided to watch all the movies that we could find streaming on Netflix about two-headed monsters. The four we've watched so far represent an interesting cross-section of horror movie history, with doctors in their secret labs working at the fringes of medical science, Frankenstein-like countryside ravaging, Freudian undertones, and anxieties about both social and technological forces.
The first chronologically is the 1959 American and Japanese co-production The Manster. Reclusive Dr. Suzuki is working with enzymes that cause rapid evolutionary change in his volcano-top lab. After a few successful and a few horrifyingly unsuccessful experiments, he finds his next experimental subject, the American foreign press correspondent Larry Stanford. After an injection with the mysterious enzyme, Larry starts to see some weird changes:
By the 1970s, science in horror movies was officially on its downward trend, but new transplant technologies provided the background for those favorite B-movie themes of sex, violence, and racism (and a lot of other -isms, wow) in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant:
and The Thing With Two Heads:
How to get Ahead in Advertising is the odd one out of the group, more Mad Men than Mad Scientist, but how could I resist another two-headed movie? In this one ad-man Denis Bagley is driven over the edge when he has to come up with an ad for acne cream, developing a boil that develops its own aggressive personality:
I had so much fun watching these weird movies that I think Mad Science could become a regular feature. What should I watch next?