Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Night Monster (1942)

The household of crippled Curt Ingston is tense and foreboding. His younger sister is gaslit into believing she is insane, a recent visitor was murdered under mysterious circumstances, and the maid is ready to leave while she still can. It proves to be too late for her, but the arrival of a horror author and a psychiatrist may prove fortuitous. Meanwhile, Ingston has gathered together three old doctors, who once failed him during his operation. Through Eastern magic he has found a new way of restoring life, and he will have his revenge...

Night Monster is a spooky old time. It starts off quickly, partway through the story in a way, but we're all caught up to speed fairly quickly, and the main characters are in the same boat as we are. There's a slight effort at some mystery, though the solution is pretty obvious. We know who the victims will be, and that only leaves the butler, the chauffeur, and the man who wants everyone dead. I've seen the film described as a semi-remake of Doctor X, and it's not really, but there are a few neat parallels.

Pulp writer Dick and psychiatrist Lynn are decent leads once they get in the picture, and Lynn in particular is clever and inquisitive.

Curt himself is an affable and friendly fella, and his attitude towards Dick and his horror books is nice! Any man who appreciates good spooky literature can't be all bad!...Or they could be a  monster, but oh well. This switch in personality does work, even if I may have preferred another character be the culprit.

Eastern mystic Agar Singh is one of the more interesting characters in the film, and next to Curt is the only other genuine suspect. He seems shifty, and you're not sure where he stands, but he ends up really stepping up by the end, in a way the two heroes don't get to do.

Curt's sister is an innocent lady driven almost mad by the spooky goings-on, and treated like shit by the housekeeper Miss Judd. Don't let that old biddy boss you around, sock her in the kisser! The staff are shady, including the requisite foreign butler, and pervy chauffeur. Most memorable is Millie, who I was hoping would be the main character.

The police are slightly helpful, but too bad Millie had to die for them to make the connection! Speaking of the blame game, I don't blame the taxi driver since he went straight to the police, but I do hold it against him for not doing anything when she first disappeared. But then again what was Millie thinking anyway going back to the scary murder house at night?!

Then there are the three doctors who operated on Ingston. They range from feeling bad over how botched it was, to being pretty arrogant over the affair, and are the main target's for the killer's wrath.

The movie has a problem with too many characters. It's not that it feels jumbled, or that it spends too much time on any given character, but it jumps around so much that it's hard to get to know anyone. It's almost 20 minutes before we even know who the protagonist is, and it's even later when we finally meet Mr. Ingston, after hearing so much about him.

The atmosphere here is really good, with an inspired use of sound. We have ominous scenes bathed in darkness, and filled with the sound of croaking frogs...until they suddenly stop. Now we're in complete silence, and don't know why. It adds a neat edge to the stalking scenes, and is a great signal for when things are getting bad.

While predominately a horror, Night Monster is your typical 1940s picture, and has its fair share of amusing lines. This is never tonally awkward, and instead just gives the movie a nice sense of humour to break up the gloomy atmosphere.
From the skirt-chasing chauffeur" "Ah, she's no doctor, she's a dame!"
My favourite line was when the stuffy sister is up-in-arms about the 'racket' the police are making, leading to a hilarious put down from the detective: "You're the only one making any noise, shut up!".

The cast here is a good one, with a mix of serious and comic performances. In a way, Night Monster really shows off Lionel Atwill's skill as an actor. In Doctor X he played the main scientist. whereas here he's the opposite, playing one of the skeptical naysayers. Unfortunately it feels like they only had him for the day, as he calls Curt's ideas mumbo jumbo and leaves before the demonstration begins...And we never see him again! He abruptly dies offscreen soon after!

Bela Lugosi gets quite a sizable role. It's only sizable as a butler, and he's not playing a grand villain or jolly madman, but still, better to be a butler with 30 minutes of screentime than one with 3.

The effects are the only spot where the film takes a dip. Some are pretty good, like the ghostly skeleton, but for all the talk of an inhuman monster, which is said to look terrifying even when seen in the dark, from a distance, it's a real letdown when we finally see it. Or rather when we don't see it. It's just the regular actor!

Night Monster is a fairly enjoyable picture. Short and spooky, and with plenty of imagination. It may not be as stylistic or  as other films, but it's worth watching, and never disappoints...

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