A group of reporters are at the docks to greet an ocean liner which is arriving in the early morning, and as they stand about grouching about not having had their breakfast yet, a strange man walks up and tells them to watch out for one specific person disembarking. She is Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal), and her doctor friend, Randall (Henry Hall), has some bad news for her as he approaches: her brother, Dr James Brewster (Bela Lugosi), has been missing these past few weeks. But Randall knows exactly where he is: under the family mansion, in his lab - and thanks to his own experimentation, transformed into an ape man...
Not that Brewster wanted to turn himself into an ape man, it's a side effect of his research, although we never find out what help to modern science turning yourself into a gorilla would possibly be. As far as contributing to your Poverty Row horror movie goes, its a huge help, so Lugosi spends the entire running time covered in hair - or at least his head and hands are, the rest of him is wearing a suit. He looks more like a werewolf than an ape man, but no matter, as with many of these cheapo chillers of this time, it's the mad science that counts here, well aware that its implementation cannot be satisfactorily reversed.
Yes, we're headed for tragedy, or that's the idea, and it's oddly touching to see Lugosi break down in tears early on. That emotion does not last of course, and soon you are watching bemused as Dr Brewster has a love-hate relationship with an actual gorilla who he shares his lab with. Well, I say actual gorilla, it is played by a man in a suit (Emil Van Horn), and no less convincing than the star at being a creature born of mother nature in all its unbridled rage. This absurd duo do team up when Brewster works out that what he needs to cure himself is spinal fluid, and as not many would be prepared to offer him their's, he has to take it by force.
Meanwhile, Brewster may be a tragic figure but he's still the bad guy, so we have to have a couple of crusading reporters to crack the case before the police do. They are Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford) and his photographer Billie Mason (Louise Currie), assigned to the task of interviewing Agatha about her recent tour of the haunted houses of Europe. Now, you may think it was foolhardy to take such a trip when there was a war on, but the screenwriters have made allowances for that and drop the conflict into as many conversations as they can. When Billie inquires why Jeff hasn't joined up, you expect him to say "Because I'm sixty years old" but he replies that he has indeed joined up, and is waiting to go to sea.
So once we've established that Jeff is not a snivelling coward, we can get on with the main part of the story and see how the duo can foil Brewster's plans to cure himself. If only he had gone to a proper doctor he might have had more luck, but we never find out why he simply didn't check himself into a hospital - more likely it never crossed the filmmakers' minds. There is some campy appeal in seeing Lugosi act the gorilla, and he shows more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary, but the man was a professional. As if aware of how silly their plot is, the creators here undercut each scene of tension with a little light comedy, which might have left you feeling cheated if you were taking it at all seriously, but there cannot have been many who were in that position. Once you find out who that mysterious stranger who keeps appearing is, then you recognise this was regarded as a bit of fun, which is the way you should treat it too.