John Brahm, 1942
Starring: James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Heather Thatcher
Oliver Hammond, heir to the illustrious, but cursed Hammond family, is attacked by a strange creature along with a local nurse, who falls into a coma. Though his sister Helga thinks there must be a rational explanation, the family servants think it is due to the centuries old curse that dictates male family members will eventually commit suicide or die suspiciously. Robert Curtis, from Scotland Yard, and his assistant Christy are determined to solve the case, though they meet with some resistance from the family, local doctor, and servants.
There are a number of suspicious occurrences around the house, including a locked room and strange foot prints. The nurse soon dies and the case is sent to court, where it is ruled that her death was the result of an unknown, but strange circumstance. Robert and Christy are still determined to overcome local superstitions and get to the bottom of things. He finds a strange wolf hair on the victim and evidence of a cobra venom injection. He is trying to work out what it all means when Helga Hammond is kidnapped and they must try to save her before she becomes the next victim of... THE UNDYING MONSTER!!!
Sort of a cross between She-Wolf of London, The Wolf Man, and The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Undying Monster blends murder mystery, an age old family curse, and a hint of the supernatural. While it seems to be leading us towards a human perpetrator (as with She-Wolf of London), the surprise twist is that there is an actual werewolf, though we see little of him/her and the ending is rather ludicrously explained away.
As with many films of this period, the studio simply tried too hard to cram humor into the plot. With The Undying Monster, this sometimes works and comes across as quick and witty, but sometimes just drags the plot to a grinding halt. The script was written by Lillie Hayward (Lady Killer), who would later go on to work with Disney, and is based on a novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish. Though it has some effectively dark moments, the script is also kind of a mess and wavers back and forth between numerous genres, including slapstick comedy with the male and female detective team, a horror film, an atmospheric, supernatural murder mystery, a mad scientist movie, and a bland, dialogue heavy parlor room mystery.
The acting is decent, but not exceptional. As with many B horror pictures, there are a number of familiar faces, such as John Howard (The Invisible Woman, The Mad Doctor), Bramwell Fletcher (The Mummy), Heather Angel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Halliwell Hobbes (Dracula’s Daughter), etc. German director John Brahm fled to the U.S., along with many of his filmmaking country men, and is best known for his films with Fox, such as his excellent remake of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, Wild Geese Calling, The Locket, The Brasher Doubloon, Vincent Price film The Mad Magician, episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and more.
Brahm’s regular collaborator Lucien Ballard is responsible for the lovely cinematography, certainly one of the film’s strongest points. Though he worked with Brahm on many of his films (and even married The Lodger’s Merle Oberon for a time), he also shot several of Sam Peckinpah’s films, Otto Preminger’s Laura, and many more classics. As with Laura, The Undying Monster has an almost noir-like atmosphere, though it also borrows liberally from Universal’s fog drenched, gothic sets of the ‘30s to great effect.
The Undying Monster is available in the Fox Horror Classics Collection Vol. 1 with Brahm’s Hangover Square (1945) and one of his most beloved films, The Lodger (1944). There is also a second collection, despite the fact that Fox didn’t make many horror films, which includes Lugosi vehicle Chandu the Magician, Vincent Price vehicle Dragonwyck, which is not remotely a horror film, and Dr. Renault’s Secret. The Undying Monster comes recommended to anyone who enjoys classic horror-mysteries and even though there are a few lulls, there are enough nice moments to make this worth watching at least once.