Cat People (1942)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur [Other horror films: I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943), Night of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), War-Gods of the Deep (1965)]

This RKO production doesn’t have the same impact that a Universal horror film would have, but it’s still a mostly fine film, though elements of the plot don’t entirely work for me.

At times, the film is appropriately moody, and the heavy use of shadows during the more suspenseful sequences (perhaps the pool scene being the best example of this) really lent the film a darker feel, but the bigger problem here is the route the plot took, which truthfully came as a surprise to me.

The antagonist of the film wasn’t at all the individual who I at first thought it would be, and like I said, when it becomes obvious where the movie’s going (about half-way through, probably), I was taken aback. Personally, I would have changed a few things, maybe instead move the film toward an ending more like The Leopard Man from 1943, which I enjoyed quite a bit more.

Still, Cat People isn’t a bad movie, by any means. The main cast are all great (though Jane Randolph’s character really grated on me), and when the film drifts away from the drama to a more suspenseful film, the scenes stand out well. When Randolph’s character is walking home, and then suspects someone following behind, it’s a jolly good time.

All this said, though, I just can’t get over the somewhat disappointing route the film took. In some ways, I felt as though elements were almost xenophobic, though I know that wasn’t the intent. I guess I was looking for perhaps a more conventional fair, and this one veers a different direction. It doesn’t pack the punch a Universal film generally did, so while I’d tepidly recommend it, I do think you could do much better for 1940’s horror.

6.5/10

The Mad Monster (1942)

Directed by Sam Newfield [Other horror films: Dead Men Walk (1943), The Monster Maker (1944), The Flying Serpent (1946)]

I think I was much too harsh on this when I first saw it. The Mad Monster’s certainly on the lower spectrum of 40’s horror flicks, but I don’t know if it’s entirely bottom of the barrel, and you could still get some entertainment value out of it.

Being an early werewolf movie (released a year after the classic The Wolf Man) lacks the more supernatural origin of the werewolf (such as a curse) and instead relies on a scientifically-created wolf man, a simple-minded handyman (played by Glenn Strange), who a scientist (George Zucco) uses to extract revenge of those who deemed his scientific ideas mad.

In all fairness, as Zucco’s first scene has the scientist seeing visions of the four scientists scorning him for these same ideas, and Zucco replies to them in a tone that reaches shouting before long, one could probably forgive those who find Zucco’s character mentally unbalanced.

Zucco gives a pretty good performance here, as it is. Zucco appeared in a fair amount of b-level hororr films in the 1940’s before his retirement from films, and while this performance isn’t his most memorable, it is a good portrayal of a truly mad scientist. Glenn Strange did great in his simple-minded role, and I thought he was perhaps the real stand-out here. Anne Nagel and Johnny Downs were both decent in their roles, though Downs didn’t really have all that much to do until the ending, and Nagel almost never had anything to do.

Another thing that positively stood out was portions of the setting, especially the mist-covered marshlands where some of the action took place. It had a suitably creepy vibe, despite the cheapness of the film, and I’ve personally always liked how swamps look, especially in black-and-white. I wish more of the horror sequences had taken place in such a setting, though.

When all’s said and done, The Mad Monster certainly pales in comparison to some of the classics of the 1940’s, and really, would probably only appeal to fans of the lower-end B movies of the time period (such as The Monster Maker, coincidentally directed by the same guy). I enjoyed it more this time around than when I first saw it, but ultimately, there’s so many more memorable and just plain better movies out there than this one. I did appreciate the victim choices, though, so kudos there.

6/10

The Undying Monster (1942)

Poster

Directed by John Brahm [Other horror films: The Lodger (1944), The Mad Magician (1954)]

Even for the time period, this early werewolf flick didn’t really add much to the genre. That said, it’s a perfectly competent film, and it’s mystery even allows it to harken back to the more classic old-dark house-type films.

None of this is to say the story itself is bad – it’s a somewhat fun little mystery with possibly supernatural aspects thrown in along with more than a few suspects. The movie hits hard on the procedural part of detective work, too, and even throws in a ten-minute coroner inquest. Of course, this wasn’t always the most thrilling material, but it did lend an authentic feel to the film.

John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, and James Ellison all do pretty well in their roles, though I will say without the mustaches, I’d have likely found the three indistinguishable. Heather Angel was perfectly fine as the leading woman (and even had some strength not often seen in women from older films), though Heather Thatcher came across as annoying most of her time on-screen (likely because she was the comedy relief character). Halliwell Hobbes, though a name I’m not familiar with in the least, was perhaps one of the most memorable performances, playing a life-long butler with a secret.

And of course, this is where a lot of the fun has always come from these types of films – multiple parties throughout the movie, all with deep secrets and their own goals. That’s why films like The Last Warning and The Bat Whispers are films I often speak fondly about when discussing this era, and that’s why this one is a bit better than you might at first suspect.

Truth be told, when I first saw this film, I was somewhat bored, even though the film’s just over an hour long. The issue was that there weren’t nearly as many ‘scary’ sequences as you’d hope, which is still an issue now. However, I appreciate the way they approached this, in an almost-scientific mind-frame, so while it’s not always overly exciting or engaging, there’s still something to see.

Coming out just a year following The Wolf Man, and seven years off Werewolf of London, The Undying Monster does little to add to or really expand on the addition of werewolves to the horror genre, especially when the film plays out like an old dark-house mystery with a werewolf thrown in last minute. Even though it’s not dripping in originality, it’s still a competent film, and the setting, an old mansion near the cliff-side, certainly brings a pleasant atmosphere to it.

7/10