Released by: Kino Studio Classics
Released on: November 22nd, 2016.
Director: John Brahm
Cast: James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Heather Thatcher
Year: 1942 Purchase From Amazon
A man named Oliver Hammond (John Howard) and his friend are out hunting in the woods late one night when they are set upon by some sort of horrible beast! Unsure what exactly was responsible for the attack, they bring in Scotland Yard’s Robert Curtis (James Ellison), who arrives quite quickly with his assistant Christy (Heather Thatcher) in tow. There is talk amongst the townsfolk of the supposed Hammond Curse, Curtis is a man of logic and doesn’t pay their superstitions much mind as he goes about trying to find a scientific cause for the assault. Family friend Doctor Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher) offers his assistance but pushes Curtis away from the curse theory any time he can.
Soon enough, the man who was with Oliver that night passes away from the wounds he suffered in the attack. As Curtis continues his investigation, he finds digs for clues and eventually uncovers some strange hair that looks to be more animal than human. When he deduces that the hair belongs to a wolf, he starts to wonder if the talk of the Hammond Curse might not be such rubbish after all, particularly once there’s a second attack in which the creature abducts Helga Hammond (Heather Angel)…
Yeah, fine, this one plays out like an episode of Scooby-Doo and yeah, fine, the middle stretch is full of nothing but talk talk TALK but there’s something about The Undying Monster that makes it plenty watchable despite its obvious flaws. The opening scene where Oliver and his pal are attacked is well done. There’s good atmosphere here and some nice shadowy photography to grab our attention right from the start. From there? It gets slow. We spend a lot of time yapping about ‘what ifs’ as Curtis pokes around looking for answers. Some of this poking is at least visually interesting, such as a neat scene that takes us into the basement of the family home, but the pacing during this stretch is positively glacial (which is saying something when you consider that the film runs only three minutes past the one hour mark!).
Surprisingly enough, however, the movie makes a fairly successful comeback. The story does build to a pretty satisfying conclusion that is both thematically fun and visually impressive. There’s some solid action and excitement once the truth behind the killing and abduction is revealed, and while it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it all coming way too early on, it is at least an entertaining finish.
The cast are all entertaining enough. John Howard and James Ellison make for fine leading men and they handle the material with class and style. Bramwell Fletcher is too obviously suspicious in his supporting role but at least he’s amusing, while Heather Thatcher as our intrepid investigator’s right hand woman offers some unexpected quirky comic relief. Thrown in Heather Angel as a damsel in distress and the cast shapes up well. The production values are solid too. Lots of this was clearly shot on a soundstage but the lighting and decorations help to conjure up an appropriately macabre atmosphere during the opening and closing sequences.
The Undying Monster is presented in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe. Contrast looks very solid here and black levels stay strong. The whites never bloom or look too hot while detail and texture show a lot more than we've seen previously on home video. The 1.33.1 framing looks very good. There is very little print damage here to note, the picture is very clean. There are no signs of edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression artifacts to complain about and the upgrade in picture quality this release offers compare to the old DVD release from Fox is considerable.
The only audio option for the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in English. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine.
The extras for this release start off with an audio commentary from film historians Tom Weaver and Robert J. Kiss who are joined by Sumishta Brahm, the daughter of director John Brahm. Understandably this track focuses on Sumishta’s father. There are a lot of great stories here about what he was like as a person, how he approached his craft, and what he was like to deal with on both a personal and professional level. Also on hand is a second audio commentary, this time featuring Weaver again, joined by David Schecter. This track is more analytical and focused on the film itself. Here the pair discusses the sets, the cast members, the production values and the quirky story while offering up some opinions on what works in the film and, sometimes, what doesn’t. Between the two tracks, there’s a lot of ground covered and both of these discussions are well put together and quite interesting for very different reasons.
Carried over from the older Fox DVD are some other supplements, starting with Concerto Macabre: The Films Of John Brahm. This featurette runs fifteen minutes and it’s part biography and part career retrospective. It’s an interesting piece that does a fine job of detailing the director’s history and some of the more memorable films he had a hand in making. Also carried over from the DVD is a 2007 Restoration Comparison piece that shows what went into cleaning up and reissuing the film on home video.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is an animated montage of images that is basically a still gallery, an alternate title sequence, a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other vintage horror pictures available from Kino, static menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
The Undying Monster definitely feels like a chore during the middle stretch, but the opening third of the movie is solid and the finale is a blast. Despite the slow parts, the film has its own weird, quirky charm even if the story will seem familiar to anyone paying attention. Kino’s Blu-ray is a really solid release, however. This offers up a really nice upgrade in terms of the presentation and a nice selection of extras too.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!