Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Undying Monster ( 1942 )

“ When stars are bright on a frosty night, Beware thy bane on a rocky lane ”

Coastal England at the turn of the century…. High atop a cliff stands the Hammond estate, the ancestral home of the Hammond family. Legend has it that the family is cursed to falling prey to a flesh-eating beast of a man ( a werewolf, no doubt ) whenever “the stars are bright on a frosty night”. And lo! ‘tis a moonlit frosty night it be. 


Inside this stately manor resting beside a warm, gently glowing fire is our heroine Helga Hammond ( Heather Angel ), heir to the Hammond estate along with her brother Oliver ( John Howard ). Within a short span of a week - a sprightly 61 minutes to us viewers - she will feel the danger of the mad beast close at hand while he prowls the desolate moor grounds in search of his latest victim. Eeek!

The Undying Monster is a little known gem of a mystery from the vaults of 20th Century Fox studios. It was made in direct response to Universal Pictures’ huge commercial success – The Wolf Man. Right after Lon Chaney took ill with a bad case of lycanthropy, Darryl Zanuck was busy getting the wheels of productive competition turning. Five months later Fox released two films of a similar horror vein to the blood-thirsty public - Dr. Renault’s Secret and The Undying Monster
Universal Horror fans will recognize a slew of great character talent in The Undying Monster including Halliwell Hobbes, Holmes Herbert, Eily Malyon, and Bramwell Fletcher as a capital red herring. Alas, our leading man – James Ellison - is not as well-embraced as these fine actors.

Whilst the film has a wonderful atmosphere and superb cinematography ( by Lucien Ballard ), it lacks a strong performance from its main character ( Ellison's Scotland Yard detective Robert Curtis ) and noticeably lacks a romantic aspect as well. Werewolves and fog and no romance? How dreadful. 

The inimitable George Sanders was originally slated to play this forensic scientist/Sherlock Holmes investigator but was not available, and so James Ellison was brought in as a last minute replacement. Oh dear, such a poor poor substitute he was. He delivered his lines with the least amount of flair or wit and simply failed to inspire any interest in his character. 
In spite of this miscasting and the film's weak story plot ( we never do get a clear understanding of what’s going on ), The Undying Monster remains a budget horror classic will worth watching. James Brahm, the brilliant German director of The Lodger and Hangover Street and cinematographer Lucien Ballard took a standard run-of-the-mill werewolf story and turned it into an atmospheric visual feast for the eyes. Arresting angles, striking shadow play, and sweeping camera movement take this simple thriller one notch above the rest. 

3 comments:

  1. A horror movie whose title I hadn't even run across? Egads! I thought I was pretty well versed in 30's and 40's horror.

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    Replies
    1. Well, aside from the great cinematography, it's not very memorable so that could be why you don't hear about it much.

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  2. A well-crafted little gem! The setting is marvelous and I love how it unfolds like a mystery. So glad you covered it here, because more movie fans need to know about.

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