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The bodies keep turning up in and around a remote mansion known as Ingston Towers, the home of a reclusive invalid, his mentally fragile sister, and a staff of suspicious characters who all seem to be hiding some secret. Part horror movie, part supernatural thriller and part murder mystery, Night Monster (1942) is a B-movie old dark house picture produced by Universal Studios, home to the great monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. It went into production in July of 1942 under the working title House of Mystery with top billing given to Bela Lugosi, the star of the studio's first horror hit Dracula (1931).
Despite Lugosi's star billing, the odd low-budget programmer is more of an ensemble piece with Lugosi at the center of it all as the butler of Ingston Towers, overseeing the arrival of the three doctors who oversaw the treatment that left the master of the manor crippled. The film makes efficient use of sets leftover from The Wolf Man (1941) and The Ghost of Frankenstein(1942) and of the studio lot and of Universal's stock company of players. Along with Lugosi, the impressive cast includes Lionel Atwill as one of the famous physicians called to the mansion; Ralph Morgan as the crippled Kurt Ingston; Leif Erickson constantly chewing toothpicks as the womanizing chauffeur; and Nils Asther underplaying the mansion's resident yogi. The romantic duties were left to Irene Hervey, who plays the psychiatrist called by Ingston's tremulous sister; and Don Porter as Dick Baldwin, a neighbor and "who-dunnit" author invited for the festivities. Maybe the romantic sparks were for real. Porter remembered the film as "great fun... one of the reasons being I'd been nuts about Irene Hervey for years."
Lugosi's star had fallen precipitously in the years since Dracula and he bounced between starring in Poverty Row pictures and taking supporting roles in studio projects, but his name was still a draw in the horror genre. Lionel Atwill--another familiar face from the Universal horror films and a Lugosi co-star in Mark of the Vampire (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939)--was facing his own career troubles at the time. He had become notorious for alleged orgies at his mansion, but Universal supported the actor by giving him second billing. Shortly after completing shooting, Universal reunited Atwill and Lugosi in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), with Lugosi in the role of the creature he had turned down in the original Frankenstein.
Night Monster marked the feature debut of director Ford Beebe, a veteran of short films and serials, and he remembered the film fondly to horror movie historian Richard Bojarski. "Though it was a quickie, I was always kind of proud of it. Hitchcock, who was also making a picture on the lot, screened a rough cut because he was interested in Janet Shaw for a part in his film, was impressed with Night Monster and seemed to think it was a much more important picture than the studio thought. He couldn't believe the film was shot in 11 days." Beebe had previously directed Lugosi in the serial The Phantom Creeps (1939) and had nothing but praise for the actor. "I never enjoyed working with any actor more than I enjoyed working with Lugosi," he recalled. "He was not only a finished craftsman, but he was a gentleman in every sense of the word."
Night Monster was released to theaters on the bottom half of a double feature with the horror sequel The Mummy's Tomb (1942). And along with the reused sets, you can hear music cues recycled from The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein as well.
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, Arthur Lennig. University of Kentucky Press, 2003.
The Very Witching Time of Night, Gregory William Mank. McFarland and Company, 2014.
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946, Tom Weaver. McFarland, 2017.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
By Sean Axmaker