One That Fought Hard Contest With Sleep
Maybe Not Good, But Still Hypnotic: Night Monster (1942)
Doctor guests at a spooky manse are killed in succession. You wonder why the whole party doesn't move someplace safer. Universal made these by truckload and it helps to have seen them first during impressionable years when all such was captivating. In other words, don't risk Night Monster on your uninitiated, lest they flee as NM's cast should have. I used to watch it on TV without even expecting thrills to happen; that's how drunk I was on all things Universal, especially when Bela Lugosi lurked around corners. Dan Mercer and I once saw Night Monster with Dick Bojarski in latter's basement, horrors not altogether confined to the screen. You just don't forget experiences like that. Dick put a pox on Universal for misusing Bela as a red-herring, but here it was 1983, and what could we do about it? Further question: Was Lugosi in supporting role ever the "surprise" killer? Fans didn't like him diminished to butler status as others conducted mayhem. It was sadly how he'd finish though, answering castle doors and sweeping up in The Black Sleep.
The murders are signaled by swamp frogs that stop croaking, a neater than it sounds trick. Victims are glimpsed with outstretched claw hands, as if they were scared to death, but when we finally see the killer, he's not so formidable. Every Uni chill was build-up and suggestion, censor clamp on horrors past that. Lugosi and Lionel Atwill are billed first, but Bela's subservient and Atwill's the first to die, thus a letdown. I think Universal kept using Lugosi in the 40's because he was got cheap, and there were exhibitors (that is, Universal's customers) who saw value in the name and that many more twelve-year-olds who would show up because Bela was somewhere in the movie. Chicago's 1942 first-run ad at right provides some proof: note Lugosi's billing above the title --- Woods Theatre management knew he was leading lure for the show. Night Monster represents for me nostalgia that has little to do with merit it lacks, the recent watch pleasurable because Universal's DVD looked so good. How did I last past midnights with this after long Friday at elementary school? Shock Theatre was oft a battle against onrush of sleep, especially when likes of Night Monster was on wee hours' marquee.