Night of Terror
night of terror | benjamin stoloff | beatrice van | william jacobs | bela lugosi | wallace ford | sally blane | willard mack | mystery | thriller | old dark house | united states | bryant washington | tully marshall | gertrude michael | george meeker | mary frey | otto hoffman
Film: Night of Terror
Director: Benjamin Stoloff
Writers: Beatrice Van and William Jacobs
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford and Sally Blane
This was a movie that I discovered through podcasts. It was covered on one of the many I listen to and I’m not entirely sure which. I decided to watch this since I needed a horror movie from 1933 and figured it would make an interesting Featured Review for my Traverse through the Threes. Other than that, I knew that Bela Lugosi was in this so it was another from his filmography to knock off.
Synopsis: the heirs of a family fortune are required to attend a séance at the spooky old family mansion. However, throughout the night members of the family are being killed off, one by one.
That synopsis is a bit misleading, but it is what it is. The opening credits are done through a crystal ball and we see the character name with their face. I did like this touch. We then see a couple that is parked. A maniac happens upon them, killing them both. This character is played by Edwin Maxwell. His calling card is to leave a newspaper article about the things that he has done and pins to them.
We then shift to the estate that belongs to the Rineharts. The head of the family is the uncle, Richard (Tully Marshall). Living with him is his niece, Mary (Sally Blane). She is engaged to be married to Prof. Arthur Hornsby (George Meeker). He seems like he might live there while he conducts experiments. His goal is to create a serum that will allow suspended animation. This could help with surgery and the like. He is going to be buried alive while his colleagues monitor him to see if it works.
Now also at this house is Degar (Lugosi), who is the butler. He is married to Sika (Mary Frey) who is the housekeeper. She also is a psychic who goes into trances. Degar doesn’t like it. Mary doesn’t either unless it is important.
Things then take a turn when the maniac shows up. He sneaks into the laboratory of Arthur. He flees to avoid being seen. That is until Richard is in the room alone. He then kills this old man. This in turn causes Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford) to show up. He is chasing after Mary and now a story. This also brings John (Bryant Washburn) and his wife, Sarah (Gertrude Michael) to the manor. John is the brother of Richard; I believe that is the connection. The will has to be read. In it, it splits up the estate between the surviving members of the family and the staff who works at the manor. This includes Arthur, Degar, Sika and Martin (Oscar Smith), who is the chauffeur. The maniac is also nearby and continues to kill. He might not be the only one as someone is using this as a scapegoat to gain more of the inheritance.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start this one becomes an interesting murder mystery. It also has elements of things happening by circumstance as well. We have this maniac who is killing people. He targets a young couple and we see that it is scaring the people of the area. I like this element. What I don’t like and this might be a slight spoiler, this never gets resolved. The maniac is just a killer who goes about at random. He has a cool MO of pinning the newspaper articles on his victims. What I like here is that the news sensationalizes crime. This maniac is using that to his advantage. This has a direct correlation to even today.
Now with that explored, let me go over to this murder mystery. This feels like it could be a stage play. We have minimal sets and location. I love this manor. There are light elements of the ‘The Old Dark House’. That doesn’t come about until the reveal though. There is the initial murder of Richard that spirals this family. It could derail the experiment that Arthur is conducting. There are also a lot of suspects and in turn, red herrings. Anyone that is in the will could be killing the others. It also could be using the murders of those that are in the will to help someone get more money. There is also built in racism here. Because Degar and Sika are different and have beliefs that aren’t normal, they are immediately accused. I’d even go as far to say that the police are bumbling, being led by Detective Bailey (Matt McHugh). I did guess who the killer was, but it was late. If you have a keen sense, I think this can be worked out.
What makes this work though is the acting. I thought that Lugosi was good as our butler. It is interesting that he has top billing, but he doesn’t have a lot of screentime. If anything, I would say that Degar, Tom and Mary share this responsibility. There is also an interesting dynamic between Ford, Blane and Meeker. The latter disappears for a good part of this story due his experiment. Tom is after Mary, even though he knows she is engaged. I found this a bit racy to be honest. I’d say that Ford, Blane, Washburn, Marshall, Michael, Meeker, Frey and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed. Special credit to Maxwell as this maniac for just how wild he looks and acts. I did come to find out though that most of the time, it is Lugosi. That made more sense.
Then from there it would just be filmmaking. I think that the cinematography here is solid. It didn’t stand out or do anything that took me out of it. I’ll give credit for that. The setting of this is good. That is why it feels like a stage play. You could do this with minimal sets. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects. This is also early into cinema so I’m not shocked there. The look of the maniac was good. He looks so dirty. Other than that, I thought the soundtrack was fine as well.
In conclusion, this is a solid little movie. The problem that I run into is that it feels like others I’ve seen from the era. It doesn’t do a lot to stand out. There are good performances though. The best being Lugosi, but he’s relegated to being a secondary character. The rest are solid as well. I do like the setting. It is interesting to have this maniac attacking the manor and the implications that come from there. I would also say that this is well-made. If you like the era or are out to watch the filmography of Lugosi, then give this a go. Be warned it is from 1933. The copy I watched wasn’t in great shape.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10