Monday, October 15, 2007

the undying monster (1942)

Without going into too much detail, let me just say that this weekend was not a great one, and that by last night, after getting home from "Eastern Promises" and dealing with a few more bits of technical and emotional warfare, I found myself pretty exhausted, and more anxious to hit the sack than to watch another horror movie to write about today. I attempted to watch "The Return of Dracula," the flip side on the DVD double feature with "The Vampire," but for whatever reason I just couldn't get into it. About the third or fourth time I felt the need to re-start it from beginning because I realized I hadn't been paying attention, I had to throw in the towel. But I felt the need to have something to write about, so I found the shortest movie I didn't have to dig too far for, and watched that. Fortunately, the film I found, "The Undying Monster," turned out to be kind of a treat. Directed by John Brahm, this 1942 film was recently released as part of a 3-disc set with two other Brahm films, "Hangover Square" and "The Lodger."

It's kind of hard to put a finger on exactly what kind of movie "the Undying Monster" is. There is a monster involved, kind of a werewolf (in fact, I think this was meant to be 20th Century Fox's b-movie answer to Univesal's "The Wolfman," it even has a rhyming legend explaining the monster's curse, as that film did), but he only really shows up at the very end, pretty briefly. Basically this is a mystery with some comedic elements, which is fine, except the humor and lighter elements seem totally out of place given "The Undying Monster's" exquisitely crafted atmosphere. The film was shot by Lucien Ballard, the visual mastermind behind such films as Otto Preminger's "Laura," Kubrick's "The Killing," and numerous Sam Peckinpah films, including "The Wild Bunch" (as well as films for Henry Hathaway, Blake Edwards, Gordon Parks Jr, John Sturges, "The Parent Trap," and several Elvis and Charles Bronson films. Elvis Presley, not Elvis Bronson, although wouldn't that be kind of sweet?).

"The Undying Monster" is an absolutely beautiful film, awash in atmosphere and shadow, creepy gothic locales and noirish composition. Visually, it's absolutely compelling from first frame to last. The tone never quite matches the visual texture of the film, but the characters are endearing enough not to grate, at about 63-minutes, there's barely a welcome for the film to wear out. But let me say again, this film looks amazing, and is well worth watching for this alone. Another film by Brahm that I've always liked, "Hot Rods to Hell," also recently appeared on DVD as part of one of Warner Bros.' "Camp Cult Classics" collection.

Here's hoping, dear reader, that we all have a peaceful, productive and pleasant week.

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