Tuesday, November 17, 2009

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON: Be sure to wear sun tan lotion!

By Steve D. Stones

I have to admit that The Hideous Sun Demon is my favorite low budget
monster movie of the 1950s. I would have loved to see this film on a
drive-in movie screen in the late 1950s. It would be even more
interesting to have seen it on a double bill with another Robert Clarke
film, such as The Man From Planet X, The Astounding She Monster or
Beyond The Time Barrier. Clarke starred in The Astounding She Monster
just a year before he directed and starred in The Hideous Sun Demon. He
took some of his profits from She Monster and invested them into this

In his autobiography “Robert Clarke: To B or Not to B: A Film Actor’s
Odyssey,” Clarke mentions that he had a desire to create a film similar
to the Robert Louis Stevenson story Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. He was
impressed with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde while seeing it in a movie theater
at the age of 12. He wanted to create a film that would have much more
substance than The Astounding She Monster.

Viewing The Hideous Sun Demon, it is easy to see some of the
similarities of the Stevenson classic. One major difference is that
Clarke’s character, Dr. Gilbert McKenna, is a victim of an atomic
experiment gone wrong. Dr. Jekyll willingly conducts experiments on
himself to understand the duality of good versus evil in every man’s
soul. Plus, Clarke’s character has a conscience of not wanting to kill
innocent victims.

After his transformation of the Sun Demon and back to Dr. McKenna,
McKenna expresses a deep regret for his murder victims. In his own mind,
he is a victim himself, and has no desire to want to commit murders
while he is in the normal state of being Dr. McKenna. While in a
transformed state of being the Sun Demon, McKenna cannot control his
murderous desires.

What makes The Hideous Sun Demon so appealing to me is the unique Sun Demon costume worn by Clarke. It is a truly unique and frightful
costume. Clarke claims to have paid $500.00 for the costume. Like Dr.
Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Clarke transforms into the Sun Demon while wearing
his everyday clothes. Many of the production stills taken for the film
show Clarke’s trousers drenched in the front and back. This is because
the actor was sweating heavily from the heat of the costume.
Nevertheless, it adds uniqueness to the creature and makes it more
believable, in my opinion.

Another unique element of Sun Demon is the timeless theme of beauty and
the beast. Clarke cast busty blonde Nan Peterson, star of Louisiana
Hussy, as a beautiful nightclub singer that Dr. McKenna becomes
infatuated with. McKenna falls in love with her, but he knows his love
cannot last because of his condition. After a lustful night on the
beach with the girl, McKenna abandons her as the sun comes up to
transform him into the Sun Demon.

There is even a love triangle aspect to The Hideous Sun Demon. Dr.
McKenna works in his laboratory with a pretty young brunette named Ann
Lansing, played by Patricia Manning. In one particular scene, McKenna
hides in the cellar of his basement after returning from a murder spree
as the Sun Demon. Lansing confronts him in the cellar. She expresses her
concern and care for McKenna, but he rejects her sympathies for him. She
goes on to say that she loves McKenna and wants to find help for him.

Perhaps the most touching and sentimental scene of the film is when
McKenna once again is confronted in a hiding place, only this time by a
five year old girl in a 50s poodle skirt. McKenna is being pursued by
local police, and hides in a mill near the little girl’s home. She
offers to bring him cookies and decides to be his friend. This is the
most touching scene of the film.

The little girl rushes home to steal some cookies to give to McKenna. Her mother discovers she is about to take the cookies to McKenna, so she calls the local police. McKenna flees the mill and immediately transforms into the Sun Demon.

McKenna is chased to the top of a giant gas tank, where he meets his
death as a policeman shoots him and he falls to the ground. This scene
is not unlike the ending of well-known monster movies, such as
Frankenstein and The Phantom of The Opera, in which the local
townspeople chase the monster and he meets a violent death, only in this
case it’s the local police who chase the monster.

Some critics suggest that the formula of The Hideous Sun Demon does not
work because the Sun Demon can only transform into the monster in the
sunlight, unlike other monsters, such as The Wolf Man and Dracula, who
lurk in the dark. I disagree with this assessment of Sun Demon. A
monster who lurks in the dark is certainly much more scarier than one
which is out in the daylight, but The Hideous Sun Demon is not
attempting to surprise or scare the audience in the same way that
creatures of the dark are known to do.

The Hideous Sun Demon is the result of atomic radiation, so he is a
victim of his environment, and not a product of the undead coming back
to life, such as a zombie or a vampire. He is also not a product of
several parts of a corpse being assembled together, such as
Frankenstein’s monster, so he is not intended to be a monster of
experimentation. This is what makes the Sun Demon a unique creature and
interesting film.

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