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Classic Film Review: 'The Undying Monster' (1942) Part Two

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skooby-doo
Curtis, Christy, Colbert, Helga and Oliver head to the crypt, where Sir Reginald is buried next to a statue of a curious, female, dog-human hybrid. As Christy drools over the tomb of the suicidal grandfather, Curtis asks Helga to talk more of the legend, but Dr Colbert objects, wanting to avoid further stress to the surviving Hammonds (no-one notices the chains being dragged away by someone behind the tomb). Curtis asks instead to look at the secret room. The Hammonds agree, and once Alex joins the crowd, it’s hard to avoid comparing The Undying Monster with cartoon classic Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? as the good-natured Great Dane helps his friends look for a g-g-g-ghost.  

No spooks in the secret room, just a mysterious set of footprints and the family rhyme neatly inscribed on a plaque. Dr Colbert is on the defensive again and ‘accidentally’ spoils the footprints in the feeblest attempt at a cover-up since Watergate.

Colbert tells Helga to get rid of Curtis, who believes the doctor wants to take Helga’s temperature more often and “that explains his aversion to me.” Curtis suspects Colbert is aiming to bump off Oliver and so inherit the estate should he marry Helga. After all, Curtis posits, why isn’t Colbert in London, where all the other doctors live? Not great reasoning, but The Undying Monster is one of those Hollywood films which believes England consists solely of London, and a couple of villages where all the peasants live.

In the family library, Colbert hides the volume of family history Curtis wants to read for the spicy bits. Curtis presses Colbert, a brain specialist, for more information, but the doctor refuses to tell more. Mrs Walton however, lets Curtis know Kate’s coma is due to paralysis caused by an unknown drug.

Curtis and Christy search the crime scene, while Walton the butler watches from a distance. Brandishing a magnifying glass, Holmes, I mean Curtis, finds animal fur and a patch of material from a muffler. Curtis asks Christy to steal a scarf from everyone in the village to search for a match to the sample, and bless her, off Christy goes on a (sadly unseen) one-woman crime wave to steal every scarf in sight.

While Christy is about her nefarious knitwear caper, Curtis confronts Walton in the secret room as he burns what he claims as wastepaper (black and white films are rarely green). The butler joins the growing chorus of people wanting the detective to return to London: “there are some things beyond the understanding of us here on Earth,” claims the old man. The wastepaper, under examination, is Oliver's scarf.

Matters are even less friendly in the crypt, where an unknown assailant attacks Curtis. Along

krypta basilika
with comic relief characters, horror films of this era, and indeed any thriller or suspense film, often stop for a choreographed fight scene, as hero and villain exchange punches that could kill a man without so much as inflicting a scratch or a bruise upon each other. Our hero triumphs of course, with the vanquished none other than Strudwick (future Hollywood tough guy Charles McGraw), the Hammonds’ horsegroom. Caught red-handed with the chains, the groom is now a suspect, subject to questioning by the coroner at the following day’s inquest into Kate, who has died of her injuries.

I pause this review to recommend readers stop at the 44:30 mark, as there’s a shot of five of the most adorable bloodhounds you ever saw, all together in a bundle. Aww, look at them! Why they’re present at a coroner’s inquest I don’t know, but so they’re so cute, who cares.

Anyway, we learn Strudwick used the chains in helping the local poachers to set traps; the groom needed the extra money to pay off gambling debts. Curtis takes over the questioning of Colbert, because it’s his film, but can do no better in getting information out of the reticent doctor. The jury’s verdict is, as Inspector Craig notes, the same as ever for the Hammonds: “death caused by an attack from persons unknown, or species unknown.” Curtis tells the Inspector he can prove Kate was murdered in a surprising shot that makes the two men look as if they’re about to kiss.

Although Kate’s parents refuse Curtis’ offer of a free autopsy, the detective can still turn to science, and gives an explanation and demonstration of a spectrograph, a novelty for a film of this kind. Curtis uses the spectrograph on the muffler and fur samples. The sample matches that of Oliver’s scarf while the fur is that of a wolf. The fur sample then vanishes into thin air, much to Curtis’ amazement. “There are some things science hasn’t found out about,” Craig tells him, even though we never find out about what happened to make the fur vanish either; The Undying Monster appears to exist in a world where the science and the supernatural co-exist side by side. No wonder Curtis looks puzzled.

Midnight, and at Hammond House, Oliver is restless and strolls outside, but returns on seeing a strange light playing upon one of the windows. In the room where Kate’s body still occupies the bed, someone hides as Oliver enters...

In the village surgery, Dr Colbert finds Curtis helping himself to the medical facilities. Having obtained a blood sample from Kate (as almost seen by Oliver), Curtis’ test reveals a trace of cobra venom, and demands to know how such an exotic substance got into the young maid’s veins. “It’s not my secret to give,” says the doctor, and before Curtis can slap the Hippocratic oath from this oaf, a terrible scream is heard from “the direction of Hammond House.”

A creature has abducted Helga from her bed and is on the loose. Christy confronts the beast, only to remember she’s a woman in a horror film and just screams. The police chase the monster, which walks with a shuffling, simian gait, thanks to a rare misstep from director Brahm who speeds up the film in the monster’s scenes. With Helga over his shoulder, the monster reaches the rocky shore, but is intercepted by Curtis, who rescues the woman. Clambering to the top of the cliff, we see the monster is a werewolf; alas, the police see this too and open fire. For a moment, as the monster dies, we see its real face – Oliver Hammond, who falls to the rocks below.

At last, Dr Colbert reveals the truth of his work with Oliver. The male Hammonds are lycanthropes, and Colbert had used cobra venom on Oliver to “straighten out the dreadful kink in his brain.” Rather oddly, Colbert explains the lycanthrope only thinks can transform into a wolf, but what we saw of Oliver at the least suggested the power of positive thought. “What if he had come after me?” asks Christy, who really shouldn’t verbalize her every thought. “Don’t worry Christy,” replies Curtis, “wolves will never bother you.” I don’t know though, a glass of cobra venom and I might take a shine to Christy myself.

Time Enough at Last
As you can tell from this synopsis, The Undying Monster sets off in various directions, only to return to the same spot, unsure of whether it’s a horror film or a thriller with supernatural elements. Brahm and his team give the film a strong visual ‘coating,’ keeping a lid on the more ridiculous or contradictory elements, lessening the effect of the struggling script underneath. Brahm composes his shots with an eye for the unusual, using globes, fireplaces, stained glass windows and even Alex the dog to good effect in keeping the viewer’s attention. A shame then Brahm never graduated beyond the upper end of the B film market, with films like The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) remaining his best known work. Hollywood’s loss became television’s gain, and Brahm’s flair for the unusual served him well for four of the greatest anthology series of the 1960s, directing for The Twilight Zone (12 episodes, including 'Time Enough at Last', pictured), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (10 episodes) Boris Karloff’s Thriller (12 episodes) and The Outer Limits (2 episodes). As for The Undying Monster, its title, rather like the wayward accents of its characters, may lack accuracy or indeed sense, but pulls together to make for solid entertainment, and deserves a better following.
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