The Undying Monster (1942)

undyingmonster2

Director: John Brahm

On the evening that wealthy Oliver Hammond (John Howard) takes too long to walk back home to his country estate, the wind and the eerie howling echoing in the night has his butler (Halliwell Hobbes) thinking back to a similar night twenty years ago, when grandpa Hammond died after an encounter with a supernatural creature. Not for nothing does this family believe in a curse and their crypt bear the inscription “when stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane in the rocky lane.” On nights such as these, the Hammond men have all died an unexplained, violent death or, if they were lucky to survive a horrific encounter, committed suicide soon after.

Oliver’s sister Helga Hammond (Heather Angel) doesn’t believe any of this supernatural nonsense, and when a woman’s scream is heard far off in the forest, Helga grabs gun, lantern and carriage and charges out with her servant (Charles McGraw) to investigate. They find Oliver injured, a neighbour, nurse Kate, badly mauled and a dog dead, all three torn at “with grasping claws and ferocious bite.”

Scotland Yard chief forensic expert Robert Curtis (James Ellison) is called in to investigate, and like Helga, he scoffs at all things supernatural. His loyal assistant Christy (Heather Thatcher), by contrast, thrives on goosebumps, brightens at the mention of possible monsters, hears sad trombones when spooking has some logical explanation, cooks toffee with the lab equipment, and comes armed with a sharp sixth sense and a wry quip for every occasion. She shares a playful repartee and inquisitive nature with Robert and provides a fun female contrast to Helga, who’s the serious, fiercely independent woman who wants to protect the family honour.

undying-monster

Robert and Helga share a common skepticism about monsters, but that doesn’t stop the detective from suspecting Helga along with all others. After all, she’s the sole heir when the next Hammond man meets his demise. When Kate dies from causes not directly related to the attack, the butler warns Robert to leave before it’s too late, and some clues emerge that no science can explain, Robert reluctantly starts to consider the wilder theories advanced by Christy, the curse, and the superstitious villagers. Then comes another frosty night when the monster snatches Helga from her bed and leads our detective on an exciting chase.

The Hammonds’ sprawling seaside manor includes several gloomy passageways to rarely explored, hidden areas and levels that give our players plenty of scenes in which to huddle, gasp, point and marvel, and do suspicious things to conceal secrets and involvement. The 500 year-old Hammond crypt under the house is the perfect spot to hear both wisecracks and the origins of the family curse, and there’s a secret room the butler and wife (Eily Malyon) hope nobody finds. Malyon was an actress that perfected the art of staring daggers, and gives a wonderful display of that signature move at the inquest when she shoots some stern looks at Charles McGraw. When strange footprints are found on the dusty cellar floor, Helga’s gentleman, the former brain specialist Dr. Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher) deliberately smears them; like so many of the other characters, Jeff has a questionable past and an unknown current interest involving experimental medical therapy gone wrong.

The film’s 1922 source novel The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish had a sole female paranormal investigator summoned to the Hammons estate, a character it would have been fascinating to see in a 1942 movie. But rewriting to feature the dashing Ellison as an action CSI and giving him a sassy female sidekick works well, and makes this play like a hybrid Sherlock Holmes-Universal monster movie. Director Brahm (The Lodger, Hangover Square) makes this fast, thrilling fun, while the grand but depressing estate, sinister shadows and surrounding twisted, rugged grounds all beautifully photographed by Lucien Ballard.

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “The Undying Monster (1942)”

  1. By one of those annoying coincidences, I’m due to post my own writeup of this particular movie in a few days’ time. Yours is of course a whole lot better than mine, dammit.

    1. haha! well endless thanks for that great compliment, I look forward to reading your opinion on it! Weird how that happens, serendipity is real! 🙂

  2. I watched this film some time last year and was tremendously enthusiastic about it, I just thought it was enormous fun. Think we downloaded it to DVD from youtube, will have to think about it giving it another look before the year is out. Nice to read about such a fun film.

    1. It really is, I totally enjoyed it too. I read some reviews that the Christy character is silly but I liked the back and forth and the Watson-ish personality. Fantastic looking movie, some of those shots in the cavernous manor against the stained glass are really something! Thanks so much

  3. Well, whad’ya know? Bulldog Drummond and Phyllis in a film I had never even heard of… and which is still on youtube at the moment! Thanks for the well-timed review 🙂

    1. Great, I hope you enjoy the discovery as much as I did, there’s a lot to like in the cast, visuals and the mix of horror and comedy. That’s true about the Bulldog co-stars! another series I enjoy, have seen almost all from Milland on, but not the Colman and earlier ones, would love to see those someday. Thanks and best!

      1. I love that series! (Milland’s and all the Howard films.) I’ve also seen the two Colman films, and really enjoyed the second film, which very much set the tone for the later series, I think. Not terribly enthused about the first one, but maybe I was expecting too much, after reading Maltin’s rave review.

        I’ll try to watch “Undying Monster” soon, it’s that time of year 😉

  4. Another great recommendation! I just watched this after reading your post. I love the giant Scooby dog, but I can’t decide if Helga should be Daphne or Velma. Maybe if Daphne and Velma had a Vulcan mind-meld – or maybe if Daphne and Velma were in a horrible transporter accident (like in “The Fly,”) with Helga coming out one end and Christy on the other. The lurking housekeeper would also be right at home in “Scooby Doo” (the first, best season, of course). Cinematically, there are a couple of nice things – like when you’re looking through the fireplace while the detective and Helga are talking, and again when the detective and the housekeeper are talking over top of the giant globe. Thanks for this terrific suggestion!

    1. Great, glad you liked it. I really loved the look and atmosphere, that globe scene you mentioned was impressive as were many shots in that house, the one at the massive window was nice. Christy was already making snacks in the lab tray, so all that’s missing in this case is the Scooby gang’s Mystery Machine and a well-timed Ruh-Roh! Cheers 🙂

    1. A John Brahm kick is a great idea, he made some great thrillers and I need to catch up on a few more of his movies. Thank you!

  5. When the cats at Fox Home Video really CARED about
    vintage movies,about seven or eight years ago,
    they issued a great John Brahm triple set,beautifully
    packaged and packed with extras.
    The other two films in this essential set were HANGOVER
    SQUARE and THE LODGER.
    I love THE UNDYING MONSTER which like Universal’s
    B Horrors had A Movie production values.

    1. I love those Brahm movies, also THE LOCKET is pretty great, Laraine Day did wonders with that role. Yes to the resemblance to Universal in this one, those are like comfort food to me so whenever I see that ‘look’ I love it. No complaints about the change to have Ellison the detective here, but I was having fun thinking about the casting of the female paranormal investigator, if they’d kept that from the novel.

        1. oh boy, casting games are fun. Just off the top of my head, limiting myself to ladies who were at Fox around that time, Anne Baxter? Lynn Bari? Gene Tierney. Would be fun to see this kind of movie on their resumes 🙂

  6. I swear, it must be kismet :-D. I just happened to stumble upon this film while looking for a short classic horror film to watch this weekend on YouTube so I just saw it too. It was an interesting early werewolf film that was done in the way that I like horror films – less focused on gore and more focused on psychology.

    Tam

    1. You’re the 2nd, maybe 3rd person to say this, so I’m thinking there’s some cosmic force that wants us all to watch this movie asap! I totally agree, it had just the right atmosphere and look for me too, I’m a sucker for that gothic style, a little fun thrown in… Thanks as always for your thoughts.

  7. Whoa, whoa, whoa…Charles McGraw plays a SERVANT? Tell me he’s really a police detective going undercover to investigate a murder, or kidnapping, or unexplained supernatural animal attack. Otherwise, I’m thinking this was just a strange dream you had.

    1. I know, it’s always a bit of a shock still, when you see him, and hear that voice, in such small roles but he rocks them. Reminds me of his part the The French Revolution movie The Black Book too, that was fun!

Comments are closed.