A series of suspicious drownings has the London police/Scotland Yard concerned. After finding that all these people had fresh water in their lungs, they begin investigating the men's insurance plans, finding a trail that leads to Dr. Feodor Orloff's charity for the blind. Two American policemen are called over to help, and enlist the help of Diana, niece to the latest victim. She gets a job as secretary for the kindly doctor, soon uncovering a diabolical scheme...
Also known as The Dark Eyes of London, The Human Monster is a 1939 adaption of an Edgar Wallace novel. Known for his 'lurid' and pulpy stories, this film was no exception, living up to that stories] reputation by immediately earning itself an H rating for Horrific. Neat! How does it fare today though, in this day and age where what scared our ancestors/grandparents seems quaint? We'll see...
I found The Human Monster to be a little slow to start, but it has a decent story, and the basic nature of the premise serves it well. There were a few dips and lulls for me as the movie went on. I was never bored, but I was a little impatient here and there, hoping that someone would die or something would blow up.
For the majority of its runtime, The Human Monster is a pretty relaxed film about insurance fraud. It's got intrigue of course, murder, and the occasional torture scene, but it's not a really out-there film. But then comes the final act, and oh boy, is it spectacular!
This is relatively well-made. It's not an effects heavy production for the most part, so it does well. The most visually interesting part of the film is Jake, an often overlooked 'monster' in 1930s horror cinema. He has a distinctive and creepy look to him that really sells him as a formidable villain. It's amusing that he has such a simple normal name as Jake! The make-up is really well designed, and certainly convincing. There's another area of the film where the make-up is used to great effect, which I won't reveal.
The characters are all fine. A few of the heroes blended together for me at times. There's the strapping American guy and his buddy, there's a handsome young British detective, others(?). None are bad, but they dress and act similarly, and I got a bit lost sometimes. Then there's of course the love interest Diana. Her role is here not only to get butts in seats for a good kiss, but also to give to the story. She's a brave and clever girl too! She willingly climbs into the lion's den to find out who killed her father, even braving the unenviable task of spying on Bela Lugosi! It takes a cool customer to spy on Bela when he's just tortured his treacherous minion in the next room!
The actors do good jobs. Lugosi is a little underhammy in comparison to other films, giving a more subdued and low-key role. He's nice and friendly in some scenes, while sinister and cruel in others. He makes the finale and other scenes really special through his presence. O.B. Clarence is good in his part. Wilfred Walter delivers a creepy and energetic performance as deformed but not entirely heartless brute Jake. Hugh Williams and Greta Gynt are fine leads, and everyone else does a fine job too. Some performances here and there are a bit spotty, like a hilariously bad drunk, but that turns out to be intentional, and it does garner a laugh out of sheer ridiculousness.
The music plays a really good part in The Human Monster! Even though the film tested me at times, the score keeps you hooked. It opens the film with an immediately gripping spooky tone, and continues to be effective throughout.
The Human Monster is by no means perfect, but it's got enough good in it to make up for any shortcomings. Lugosi delivers a and proves in this last act why you don't wanna mess with him!...
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