For years our fears have been brought to life by those demented doctors whose visions always seem to outdo the realities. Their dedication is never questioned …merely their sanity. We all know what it’s like to be obsessed with a particular idea but most of us fall short of locking ourselves in the basement until we create a monstrosity that will then likely wreak havoc on the neighborhood.
Today I would like to talk about those guys who can’t quite seem to know when to stop. They are so driven by their desires that they will stop at nothing, even murder, to achieve their results. Sometimes they are motivated by greed or the promise of fame. Sometimes they are noble but manage to get lost on the way.
Sometimes they are already insane and sometimes they are dragged into insanity by the very object of their labors. If you notice, the majority of these guys originated in literature and several of them have been around long before their characters burst onto the screen.
Top Ten Labcoat Lunatics / Mad Doctor Horror Movies
Dr. Frank N. Furter – This sweet transvestite from The Rocky Horror Picture Show may not be the brightest bulb in the box when compared to others down the list but he sure is a snazzy dresser.
Just try to imagine some of the other guys in fishnets and high heels. Somehow I think it might detract from their stories. I can’t help but feel sorry for Frank. I think what he needs most is big hug.
Professor Eddie Jessup – William Hurt’s screen debut was a strong one as Dr. Jessup who, while studying schizophrenia, decides to focus on sensory deprivation believing that “our other states of consciousness are as real as our waking states.”
But as can be predicted, his experiments soon get the best of him and his entire being spirals out of control. Perhaps only the love of Emily (Blair Brown) can bring him back to reality…or perhaps not.
Dr. Jack Griffin – Better known to most as The Invisible Man, as created by author HG Wells in 1897, Griffin theorizes that man can become invisible. He is correct in his theory but sadly can’t bring himself back.
Claude Rains portrays this character most memorably as we watch his life’s work take hold and send him (as usual) into insanity.
Dr. Logan – Of course we don’t really know the mental state of Logan before he ends up in the underground dwellings with the other survivors in Day of the Dead, but one can only imagine him to be an accomplished scientist. He is first attempting to discover a cure for the unknown causes that are making the dead walk, then descends into his own world of madness where he decides that if we can’t beat them…we can get them to join us.
He is convinced that the zombies can learn as well as retain some memories of their past, therefore they can be domesticated. His work with Bub, his star pupil is amazing but he crosses the line and seals his doom when he begins to feed fallen soldiers to the zombies as reward as this is frowned upon by Captain Rhodes. His work, along with the disintegrating ranks of the other characters, soon aids in the collapse of the community as a whole.
Dr. Henry Jekyll – Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of duality within the human personality has been given numerous screen treatments over the years. He is a scientist convinced that man has both a good side as well as an evil one. He concocts a serum which allows him to unleash the evil as Mr. Hyde.
Whereas Jekyll is a kind man with good intentions, Hyde is pure evil inside and out. He is the direct opposite of Jekyll in action and appearance. As can be predicted, he soon loses the ability to control his worse half and goes on a rampage of violence.
Dr. Moreau – Well would you look at that? It’s HG Wells again. Edward Prendick accidentally stumbles onto an island which is home to a scientist (Moreau) who gets his jollies by mixing animals with humans, hence the title The Island of Dr. Moreau. See how they did that?
Moreau’s twisted world involves pain and torture and an iron clad set of rules set down by him to govern the beasts he has created. But when you mix the strength and cunning of animals with the intelligence of humans, you can’t expect them to take too much crap for too long. Eventually they revolt. The photo above is from the latest version of this film. It depicts Marlon Brando as the sicko scientist along with his little friend who I like to refer to as “Mini Mo.”
Dr. Edward Pretorius – From Beyond is the film adaptation of the HP Lovecraft story with the same name. In the film Tillinghast (Combs) and Pretorius are working on The Resonator, a machine created to stimulate the pineal gland.
They don’t suspect that it will eventually lead to Pretorius being dragged into another world from which he returns with enormous powers, a hopped up sense of self-importance and a libido to beat the band. And then you get to see the lovely Barbara Crampton in bondage gear. Yes I am a woman and yes I am straight. But dammit, I know hotness when I see it.
Dr. Seth Brundle – Jeff Goldblums portrays the ill-fated scientist in the Cronenberg remake of the 1958 film of the same name. His desires are simple. He wants to create a way for man to travel from place to place instantly and with little difficulty.
He eventually strikes the right chord but only after mutilating some lab animals and a good looking piece of steak. Sadly, he is unaware when a fly enters the chamber with him as he attempts the first run through. It is successful in many ways. Not only does he teleport, but he becomes bound with the fly on a genetic level. The majority of the film is us watching his slow, often painful, metamorphosis into Brundlefly.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein – This is the grandaddy of them all. He is the big name in science gone wrong. Frankenstein is obsessed (bet no one could guess that) with the creation of life. He is determined that he can mesh a bunch of dead parts together, apply some good old fashioned know-how and have an instant buddy.
Sadly these guys never seem to learn that playing God never gets you anywhere good. While he is not an evil man, he is most assuredly maddened by his obsession. The creature he creates is not evil either, merely misplaced in a world that lacks the ability welcome such a conception. So….Frankenstein’s monster is doomed from birth. (Sidenote: Please don’t refer to the creature as Frankenstein. That is the doctor’s name. Just a personal pet peeve that may be widely accepted but is not technically correct)
Dr. Herbert West – Please take a brief look at the others on the list. We have many famous and renowned characters from literature and film. So why did I arrive at West for number one? Well Re-Animator also comes from Lovecraft but that’s not it. The theme isn’t really a new one…the creation of life from death…so that’s not it. I’ll tell you. Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of the driven Herbert West is so convincing that I can’t help but bring him to the top.
The entire film is fun from beginning to end. I adore all of the characters as well as the effects and the striking, Psycho-inspired score. But West is by far the most notable thing about the film. He is at once noble and dishonorable. He readily displays the duality of the human spirit as he simultaneously becomes the bad guy and the hero. He is not evil. He is driven to the point of doing whatever it takes to achieve his goal which he sees as ultimately being for the greater good. But…..we all know how those things tend to turn out.
Honorable Mention: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein – Like I could pass up Gene Wilder’s turn as the good scientist in Mel Brooks’ classic parody Young Frankenstein.