Friday, November 28, 2014

#1,565. Night Monster (1942)

Directed By: Ford Beebe

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson

Tag line: "What kind of a thing is it?"

Trivia: In the UK, this movie was released as House of Mystery

Bela Lugosi is the top-billed star of 1942’s Night Monster, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. His role, while not minor, is definitely a supporting one (he plays a butler), and the majority of HIS scenes are of little consequence (most of the time, he’s lurking in the background). But no matter; even without Lugosi, Night Monster is a spooky, sometimes bewildering, often engaging motion picture.

Wealthy invalid Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan), who as the result of several botched operations was left paralyzed, invites the three doctors who performed his surgeries (played by Lionel Atwill, Frank Reicher, and Francis Pierlot) to his mansion for the weekend, where they’ll witness something amazing. Now under the care of a Hindu Yogi named Agor Singh (Nils Asther), Mr. Ingston is convinced he’s stumbled upon a miraculous new method to treat paralysis, one he’s anxious to share with the world. Along with the trio of surgeons, psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Harvey) also shows up, having been summoned by Ingston’s sister Margaret (Fay Helm), who’s convinced she’s losing her mind. But what starts as a pleasant weekend soon turns deadly when one of the surgeons is found murdered in their room. Aided by writer (and Ingston family friend) Dick Baldwin (Don Porter), Dr. Harper tries to get to the bottom of this perplexing mystery, only to find her efforts thwarted by the housekeeper (Doris Lloyd), butler (Lugosi) and Chauffeur (Leif Erickson), all of whom seem to be hiding something. But the question remains: who (or what) is killing the guests of Ingston Manor, and how long will it be before Dr. Harper herself becomes the next victim?

Night Monster has a lot going for it, from the fine performances delivered by its impressive cast to its handful of creepy scenes. One in particular, where Milly (Janet Shaw), a former maid at the Ingston mansion, is attacked and killed by an unknown creature while walking home one evening, is handled quite well; we know something bad is about to happen to the poor girl the moment everything goes silent (not even a cricket can be heard). In addition, Night Monster presents us with both an intriguing mystery (one that grows more complex with each passing scene) and a very cool sequence in which the Yogi conjures up a skeleton out of mid-air!

A fascinating film, Night Monster is proof positive that, even when it comes to Universal Studio’s black and white horror outings, there are hidden gems waiting to be found.

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