The Undying Monster

09/07/2022 06:44

Film: The Undying Monster

Year: 1942

Director: John Brahm

Writers: Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby

Starring: James Ellison, Heather Angel and John Howard



This is a movie that I discovered thanks to Letterboxd for horror from 1942. I figured this was going to be a creature feature or at least a monster movie coming in. That was just going off the title. I tried to come in as blind as possible here and made this a Trek through the Twos for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast.

Synopsis: surviving members of an aristocratic English family are threatened by a legendary monster when they venture out on chilly, foggy nights.

We start this learning about a curse on the Hammond family. There is supposed to be a beast that targets them, leaving no survivors. Those that it doesn’t kill, it drives them mad until they kill themselves. The lore is that an ancestor made a deal with the devil and that this family member is still alive. They’re the one that is killing for eternal life.

The current residents of this castle on the water is Helga (Heather Angel) and her brother Oliver (John Howard). Their butler, Walton (Halliwell Hobbes), wakes her as he is worried about her brother. It is late and he isn’t home yet. She calls over to Dr. Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher), who was working with Oliver that night. He states that Oliver just left and should be home soon. There is then a scream. Helga wants to help, but those that work at the mansion don’t think it is safe. She goes out regardless. It is there she finds Dr. Colbert’s nurse and her brother. Both are unconscious and looked to have been attacked.

The following day, Oliver wakes up. He seems no worse for wear. The nurse is still in a coma though. Helga doesn’t believe in the curse. It is odd that Oliver’s dog was killed, but it didn’t look like it put up a fight. An Inspector Craig (Aubrey Mather) is called to solve this case. He enlists the aid of Robert Curtis (James Ellison) and his assistant Christy (Heather Thatcher). They know about the curse of the Hammonds, but they believe there must be a logical explanation. They search for the truth. Dr. Colbert doesn’t like them meddling in the affairs of the Hammonds or this poor nurse. The truth of what is happening here is stranger than logical can explain.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. We get an interesting premise here. I’m not shocked to see that this is from a novel either. It feels like a murder mystery that incorporates potential supernatural elements. I’d be curious to see if the source material goes deeper than what this movie does as well. What piqued my interest here is the idea of science and forensics to debunk or prove the existence of this curse.

With my opening thoughts out there, let me delve deeper. I want to start with the Hammonds themselves. We get that brief voice-over narration to establish them. Through dialogue, we also know that this is one of the oldest houses at the time that is still inhabited. There is a history of tragedy striking this family. Helga and Oliver’s grandfather was a war hero who killed himself after his encounter with the beast. It is sad that it will kill all the Hammonds or drive them to suicide if they survive the attack. This is a bleak idea that caught my attention. There’s also another piece about making a deal with the devil that I also liked. What I will say though is that despite this, it didn’t work as well in execution.

That is the information that we are given. I like that this movie takes a bit more of a scientific, or at least, a detective approach. I’m not fully sure if Robert and Christy are scientists, but this seems almost like an early episode of CSI. They are both collecting data and information to solve what is happening. I did enjoy this. The only issue I have here is that they don’t do a lot whole lot with this. This almost feels like a Hitchcock film or a giallo in that they seem to be in on what is happening, but we don’t until an information dump at the end. We do get a court room sequence near the end that I wasn’t expecting. I did figure out who the killer was, but not necessarily the reveal.

There’s not much more for the story that I needed to go into so I’ll shift over to the acting. What is interesting here is that Ellison is our lead, but I don’t feel like he does well in commanding the screen in that position. If anything, I’d give that to Angel. We see her first and during the opening attack, she takes charge. She quite impressed me. Ellison was fine. I would say the same for Howard and Fletcher. The latter seems villainous as he hides things or just seems to know more than what he’s letting on. My issue with him is during the ending. Everything seems fine then. I did like Thatcher and Mather. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

Then the last things are with the filmmaking. I did like the look of the creature. There is a statue in the house that I enjoyed. It seems that was a model for it. The explanation for the creature makes sense and it feels like it is another one capitalizing on a specific one that was made popular the year before. Since we are early in cinema, they play with the lore which is fine. Something else I want to bring up is the setting. I love this gothic style castle it takes place in. There is rich lore that comes with that as well. Other than that, I would say the cinematography and the soundtrack were fine.

In conclusion, I don’t have a lot to say about this one. What is interesting is that we are blending a murder mystery with a bit of a court room drama. There could be a creature or it could just be a killer that is depraved. I was fine with the reveal, but I will say that I guessed who was behind this. It didn’t take which much was a bit disappointing. The acting was fine. I’d give most of the credit to Angel even though she disappears a bit later into the movie. The only other things were that I liked the setting and the filmmaking was solid without standing out to me. This is a solid movie for the era in my opinion. I would recommend it if you’re doing a deep dive like I am. If you aren’t a fan of this era, avoid this one then.


My Rating: 6.5 out of 10