The release of three John Brahm movies in the Fox Horror Classics Collection caused quite a bit of excitement a couple of years ago. Brahm, born in Germany in 1893, was hailed as one of the great forgotten horror auteurs. Having now seen two of the three films included in the set, my own feeling is that Brahm has been highly overrated.
The Undying Monster, made at 20th Century Fox in 1942, is very much a B-movie. Of course there are B-movies and B-movies, but if you’re expecting something of the quality of Val Lewton’s RKO horror films you’re going to be very disappointed. It has reasonably production values, and Lucien Ballard’s cinematography is impressively Expressionist. The weaknesses, as in Hangover Square, are the script and the acting. The script is corny and obvious, and contrived. The acting is unfortunately all too reminiscent of that in the Universal horror movies of this period, with totally unnecessary and annoying attempts at providing comic relief.
The Hammond family, or at least the last surviving members of this ancient family, live in one of the oldest inhabited houses in England. There is a curse on the family, the curse of the Hammond monster. When the last male member of the family is found on a ledge below a cliff-top, along with an unconscious young woman, and both show signs of having been attacked by a large creature of unknown species, it seems the curse has struck again.
A scientific officer and his female assistant are sent by Scotland Yard to investigate these strange events. There’s a mysterious butler who knows more than he admits to, and there’s the family doctor, who also appears to know more than he’s prepared to reveal. The plot is no worse than your typical horror B-movie plot, but it fails to develop the necessary dramatic tension. And while Brahm has a good visual sense, and there’s an abundance of fog and shadows, the atmosphere of menace and foreboding doesn’t quite come off.
That’s not to say The Undying Monster isn’t worth seeing, If you treat it as just another 1940s American horror B-film, and if you enjoy that type of movie, then it’s entertaining enough. Just don’t expect a neglected masterpiece.