RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at 20th Century-Fox’s attempt to enter Universal’s horror territory, The Undying Monster.
TITLE: The Undying Monster (aka The Hammond Mystery)
RELEASED: 27th November 1942
STARRING: James Ellison (Robert Curtis), Heather Angel (Helga Hammond), John Howard (Oliver Hammond), Bramwell Fletcher (Dr. Jeff Colbert)
WRITERS: Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby (from a novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish)
DIRECTOR: John Brahm
A werewolf is on the prowl, but only appears to be killing members of one particular family. An inspector discovers that this may have been happening for generations…
Not so much your typical werewolf flick, this is more of a whodunnit with lycanthropic overtones, given the more earthbound title of The Hammond Mystery for its original UK release. It was quite an unusual film for 20th Century-Fox at the time, whose involvement with the horror genre at this point was minimal.
A few things raise The Undying Monster several notches above its b-movie origins. Visually, it’s reminiscent of the films coming out of Val Lewton’s unit at RKO around this time – cinematographer Lucien Ballard would go on to lens works for Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah in a distinguished career, but his work here is in the classic noir mode.
Ballard also utilises shaky hand-held-style camera in a close-up shot for dramatic effect – something of a horror staple nowadays, but still quite a novel and effective device in 1942, particularly with the large and cumbersome equipment of the day.
There’s tight direction from John Brahm, who would subsequently take the studio into Jack the Ripper territory with The Lodger (1944). Later responsible for several classic Twilight Zone instalments, he makes the most of minimal resources here, creating a tense atmosphere from small enclosed sets.
Brahm is ably supported by a quality cast of contract players, who make the best of what is actually quite a standard murder-mystery set-up. Only let down by some misplaced and misjudged “comedy” interludes (typical of the time, sadly), The Undying Monster is the kind of film that used to be a pleasant surprise when caught on TV in the small hours, and is probably best enjoyed today in that same spirit.