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Saturday 14 January 2012

Burl reviews Night Monster! (1942)

Hello, hello, it’s Burl! I’m here to review a creepy old Universal picture from the olden days, those innocent wartime days when you could just put together a bunch of people in a scary old house and you'd have a brand new booga-booga movie for the bottom half of the bill!
Of course it helps if some of those people in that scary house are the likes of Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi, even if Bela’s just playing a butler! You keep waiting for him to turn into a bat or something, but he’s pretty much just a stiff old butler with a strong sense of loyalty to his employer! Of course we well know that Bela’s abilities ranged far beyond such portrayals, so in a way it’s kind of nice to see him just play a fairly regular if still somewhat creepy guy!
Bela’s far from the main character in this picture! It seems there’s an elderly invalid whose arms are like old batwings, just leathery husks, completely useless, and whose legs are quite simply gone! He got that way in spite of the efforts of a trio of doctors who’ve been invited for the weekend! In addition there’s the invalid’s possibly-mad sister; a lady psychiatrist the sister has invited to see if she’s crazy or just being gaslit by the others in the house; a sinister housekeeper in the Mrs. Danvers mould; a friendly neighbour who writes murder-mysteries; and a be-turbaned swami with weird knowledge of Eastern occult practices! Ha ha, quite a crew!
It was when the swami showed up, and when it turned out that his hocus pocus was of central importance to the narrative, that I began to suspect that here, finally, is another picture in the tradition of The Amazing Mr. X! Ha ha, I really like these movies where a vein of Eastern mysticism makes its way into a spooky All-American situation! I guess I just like that particular chemical mixture!
Of course there are murders – in fact, the murders started before the movie even did! There’s a foggy, froggy swamp near the mansion, and it seems a doctor had been found there, the victim of a pretty stiff neck-twist! And a chambermaid who was going to spill the beans – same thing! And every time the sinister strangler is afoot, all the frogs in the swamp fall eerily silent! Soon the neck-twister is roaming the house, taking care of the very doctors who had failed to save the helpless invalid’s limbs! But it couldn’t be him, could it, somehow taking revenge personally on these sawboneses?
Well, there might just be some limb-regenerating going on, but I don’t want to give too much away! I’ll just say that the concept behind this strangler’s means of locomotion is pretty spooky! This was an altogether enjoyable picture, in fact! If you can get around the idea of Bela playing a supporting butler role, and you like that gleaming monochromatic Universal Pictures atmosphere as much as I do, you might enjoy it quite a bit also! I give Night Monster three empty pant legs and an extra turban jewel to Nils Asther who plays the role of the swami!

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