The Undying Monster (1942)
It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to believe Twentieth Century-Fox was eager to capitalize on the success of Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941) when it made The Undying Monster a year later. Then again, that might not be the case, because it was not promoted as one. As Jeff Rovin writes in The Fabulous Fantasy Films:
…the monster element in the picture is quite secondary to the picture’s prime function, which was to serve as a murder mystery. Not a powerhouse in the horror field, Fox wanted to be certain they could also market their film as simply a suspense picture.
From the very beginning scene in which Walton, the butler (Halliwell Hobbes), worries with Helga Hammond (Heather Angel) about the family curse that took the life of her grandfather, the characters talk a lot about monsters. While Helga is incredulous, nearly everyone else is at least willing to consider supernatural possibilities after Oliver Hammond (John Howard) is mauled trying to protect Kate O’Malley (uncredited Valerie Traxler) on a shortcut to his turn-of-the-century English estate.
Had I not known prior to my first time viewing that a werewolf was at least a possibility, I might have predicted The Undying Monster would end similar to She-Wolf of London (1946.) Supernatural explanation or not, every time a new character is introduced as a red herring, I sincerely wondered, “Is it him?” or “Is it her?” This implies that Fox succeeded at making a good gothic mystery.
With just over an hour running time, though, it tries a little too hard. The screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby speeds through its plot points so fast that, by the time you realize they don’t make much sense, it’s moved on to the next one. For example, what does a trace of snake venom in Kate O’Malley’s blood have to do with anything? It’s so fleeting that it’s not even really a clue.
Perhaps these flaws start appearing when Robert Curtis (James Ellison) and Christy (Heather Thatcher) from Scotland Yard’s “laboratory staff” arrive to solve the mystery. Don’t get me wrong; they’re fun characters, but they bring a broad comical tone with them that makes everything seem a little less serious. Thatcher fares better than Ellison, who’s the only cast member without an English accent.
Similar in many ways, I wouldn’t exactly call The Undying Monster a rip-off of The Wolf Man, even though it uses a pale version of the famous words about the werewolf legend:
When stars are bright on a frosty night Beware thy bane on the rocky lane
In A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Denis Gifford calls it the one thing that spoiled the script. However, he generally liked the film:
Of the major studios who ran their own “B’ picture units… Twentieth Century-Fox scored but two, but two good ones. The better came first… the other film was Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942.)
The Undying Monster looks nothing like The Wolf Man. You can tell a difference in the “house style” between Fox and Universal. The Universal monster movies have a unique look, one that you might not realize until watching a Fox monster movie. I like Universal better, but Fox looks more… full? This movie looks almost like its interiors were shot on location, so substantial are the sets. They almost crowd the picture.
Almost anything you read about The Undying Monster, including Rovin and Gifford, mention the fact that the monster is seen only at the end. I really liked the climax, though. Climbing a rocky little cliff on the beach, we see its head pop up over the top from the front. The camera quickly switches to the beast’s POV and we see several police with rifles point directly at it (us.) It’s kind of a unique double-jump scene, thanks to director John Brahm and the Golden Age of horror.
Written by Lillie Hayward and Michael Jocoby
Based on the novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish
Directed by John Brahm
Starring James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, Halliwell Hobbes
RT 63 min.
Released Nov. 27, 1942
Home Video Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)
Jeff Rovin, The Fabulous Fantasy Films
1977, Cranbury, NJ, A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc.
Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
1973, New York, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited