If you completely skip over the credits to this film, you would think that Universal had released it. It looks and feels like a Universal monster movie and it even features Lon Chaney, Jr. as one of its stars. As it is, Universal had nothing to do with the movie and that lack of big name studio distribution behind it did not hamper it in any way whatsoever. Strangely enough, it is similar to The Wolf Man in many ways, though obviously different in others. Raymond Burr takes the role which would be normally associated with Chaney while the latter plays a policeman assigned to investigate the going-ons at the plantation. Barbara Payton plays Dina, the love interest of the picture and together with veteran filmmaker and director Curt Siodmak who coincidentally wrote The Wolf Man, they would end up making a very compelling, if familiar movie.
The leading man as played by Burr, whom many will recognize from his time portraying Perry Mason, not only does a great job of it, but he is more a villain than he is a hero and yet, you have to feel a little bad for him after he becomes cursed for his murdering a man in the heat of the moment. Murder is never something to be forgiven and perhaps jail is too good for some people, but to find himself transforming into an ape every night, quite possibly for the rest of his life, is almost cruel and unusual. But why would Barney murder his boss? For the love of a woman of course, the beautiful Dina who is already married to said boss. The problem that arises is being discovered though and thus the curse which happens to turn Barney into an ape each and every night.
Over the years, Siodmak has brought many a good film into the collective consciousness of movie-goers, whether as a writer or director and while Bride of the Gorilla is very entertaining, it would probably have made more of an impact if he had distanced himself from his past work and instead went for something a little more original. The main difference in this film from the Wolf Man is simply the creature and the fact that Burr’s character does not need the moon to change. While the similarities are many, it does tend to get really interesting when Dina starts to realize that there is something wrong with her new husband. Why does he always head into the jungle, why does he love it so? When she finally discovers the answer, she finds it almost unbelievable until she can deny it no longer.
The special effects were good, though you would rarely see the ape until the latter half of the film. Most of the horror that the audience would experience came from the build-up of suspense and tension and not so much the reveal. A man in an ape costume is not all that frightening; no matter how good it might look. A man turning into a wolf is one thing, but an ape, though usually fearsome when riled up, not very much. You have to give Siodmak credit though, as he made a good picture. Perhaps he was just riding a wave of nostalgia or perhaps he simply wanted to capture lightning in a bottle twice, but be that as it may, though Bride of the Gorilla is no Wolf Man, it was still highly entertaining.
3.5 out of 5