Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Don Porter and Irene Hervey star in Night Monster, a 1942 shocker from Universal Pictures looking to scare the pants off of the audience by dropping bodies faster than Captain Beggs as played by Robert Homans can solve them.
While everything needed is here in this picture to make for a successful horror movie including the black and white atmosphere, the presence of a mystic that can summon skeletons from Egypt, the effective cinematography from Charles Van Enger who makes the house close in on its residents while they all get killed off to having Lugosi as a somewhat shady butler, it never manages to rise to the occasion, instead just ending up as more of a suspense thriller than anything else, though a good one at that. Director Ford Beebe who also produced the film tried his best to give it more than a few scares and though he was effective at his job in certain respects, the movie never ended up being all that frightening despite the killer being able to strike at any time and there being mysterious pools of blood left at the crime scenes. That being said, the film keeps the viewer hooked into the proceedings as they mystery that is weaved throughout the movie is done expertly and made to be a lot of fun. There are certain red herrings thrown in to keep the audience guessing, such as Lugosi which is immediately where most people will go when thinking of a villain or Leif Erickson who played the chauffeur, another obvious choice of bad guy.
Tying it all together to make it as entertaining as it is, is Don Porter who does a great job as the hero of the picture, the man both dashing and charming and perhaps just a little smarter than the police captain as they go about trying to solve the murders before any more are committed. The rest of the cast is good as well, though for the most part they are given little to do including Lugosi whose role should have been bigger than it was given he had top billing in the picture.
As far as the ‘old dark house’ genre goes, Night Monster was a welcome addition. It may not have been all that scary, perhaps it was more so when it first premiered to those particular audiences of the time, but as a whodunit, it succeeds and remains a very entertaining little film that definitely delights.
3.5 out of 5