Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of our two weeks of Halloween-related content, we offer five days of monster movies.
The Undying Monster (1942)
Though not as well known as low-budget contemporaries like Edgar G. Ulmer or Joseph H. Lewis, director John Brahm cultivated a macabre noir style that’s ripe for rediscovery. Heavy on subjective camera movements, expressionist effects, and fog, most of Brahm’s major works qualify as oddities of one sort or another. This partly explains why Brahm’s career stalled in the 1950s, leading him to move to television, where he worked on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. (He directed a dozen episodes of the latter, including the iconic “Time Enough At Last.”)
While many of the films Brahm directed during his creative peak border on horror, The Undying Monster is the only one of his major works to fit squarely into the genre. A Gothic werewolf story set in the Welsh countryside at the turn of the 20th century, it’s rich with complex visual texture: light passing through stained-glass windows, shadows thrown by decorative ironwork, thick banks of fog rolling in on the moor. The monster, seen only in shadow, registers mostly as a textured shape.
Throughout the film, Brahm comes across as a sort of 1940s cross between Mario Bava and Brian De Palma, executing virtuoso camera moves and oddball compositions while riffing on his favorite filmmakers’ work. One shot, framed from inside of a fireplace, is copped from James Whale’s The Old Dark House. Brahm’s version of the shot is over 90 seconds long, and the smoke is so thick that it nearly obscures the characters’ faces. It’s The Undying Monster in a nutshell: a movie that takes the conventions of its time and genre, and exaggerates them nearly to the point of abstraction.