From the DVD case:
When Helga Hammond (Heather Angel) hears of a legend that an unholy alliance was formed between the devil and her family, whereby a male member of the family is to be sacrificed every few years, she discounts it as nonsense. But a series of attacks at the family estate by a horrific beast – part man and part wolf – seems to give credibility to the legend. When Helga’s brother Olvier (John Howard) is attacked, it appears that the legend is true. As Scotland Yard Inspector Robert Curtis (James Ellison) investigates the link between the werewolf and the family, he uncovers a shocking secret! (1942, b&w)
The Undying Monster was produced to capitalize on the success of The Wolf Man, released a year earlier, and at first we think we’re watching a film that may rival the Universal classic.
Immediately we are drawn in by the atmospheric cinematography of Lucien Ballard and the superb direction of John Brahm (Hangover Square, The Lodger). As a clock strikes midnight, we are given mysterious views of Hammond Hall with each gong. We move from a coat of arms, to a woman’s limp (lifeless?) hand, to a Great Dane, to a suit of armor, and so on. Already, we are treated to a certain amount of apprehension and curiosity.
The film’s heroine is Heather Angel (1932’s The Hound of the Baskervilles) as Helga Hammond. It was her hand that was dangling lifelessly during the introduction, but we discover she was only sleeping in front of the fire. Helga is a strong, independent woman who scoffs at superstition and has no qualms about handling a gun or running into the night when she believes her brother, Oliver Hammond (John Howard, The Invisible Woman) may be in trouble.
Less courageous is Helga’s butler, Walton (Halliwell Hobbes, Dracula’s Daughter). Walton and his wife, played by Eily Malyon, have watched over the Hammond estate for generations, and seem privy to information not shared with Helga or her brother. We get our first clue that The Undying Monster might not maintain its strong start when Walton quotes the line, “When the stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky lane,” obviously an attempt to recreate the famous ditty from The Wolf Man: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Walton’s verse is decidedly lame in comparison.
Still, we have high hopes as we hear an uncanny howl and a woman’s scream. We are suddenly transported to the point of view of the beast as he savagely attacks a young woman. The camera is jostled violently to mimic the brutality of the monster. Helga springs into action, gun in hand, to fend off the creature and rescue anyone in danger. Helga discovers her brother unconscious and badly beaten on the rocks, and the woman, Kate O’Malley (Virginia Traxler), mauled and in a coma. Kate eventually dies of her wounds, never regaining consciousness.
And here, dear reader, is where The Undying Monster takes a nosedive. Instead of concentrating on the supernatural element of the story, we shift to a detective murder mystery, with amble amounts of distracting comedic banter.
First we meet Scotland Yard investigator, Robert Curtis, played by James Ellison (I Walked with a Zombie). Curtis is a fellow who trusts no one and practically accuses everyone of foul play before the film’s conclusion. For this reason he comes off as rather obnoxious, and unfortunately, distinctly American.
However, as disagreeable as Curtis is, his assistant, Cornelia ‘Christy’ Christopher (Heather Thatcher) is immensely more irksome. Christy is one of those characters so often thrown into films of this era to provide comedy relief. Long time readers know my pet peeve regarding such mood-breaking personalities. I don’t mind a certain amount of humor thrown into a horror flick, but this woman is relentless in her mugging and one liners.
The Undying Monster is a mere 63 minutes long, but far too much time is devoted to Curtis’ forensics rather than the more interesting legend of the Hammond family. Surely the intrigue of a family curse involving an ancestor selling his soul to the devil should take precedence over a detective comparing cloth samples.
The film does redeem itself somewhat toward the end when we actually get a view of the werewolf. Though not as elaborate as Lon Chaney, Jr’s make-up, the Hammond Beast is adequately impressive. Unfortunately, these final scenes are a small payoff for what seems like an hour of wasted time.
The sets are surprisingly elaborate for a B picture. The interior of Hammond Hall is effectively huge and eerie. Additionally, the exterior scenes, though obviously a sound stage, are wonderfully ominous. The Undying Monster has a great look and feel to it.
Overall, The Undying Monster gets high marks from me for the moody cinematography and John Brahm’s competent direction. If only the script was better, this could have been a real classic.
The Undying Monster was based on a novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish.
Scene to watch for: When the werewolf is finally killed, he is revealed to be . . .
Line to listen for: “Sometimes dogs are smarter than folks.”
Special thanks: to Lance of Kindertrauma for alerting me to this forgotten gem.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.