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It is surprising how many "old dark house" movies there were back in the early days of talking pictures. It seems like every independent, Poverty Row studio made their fair share. Some are actually quite good even after all these years. I am about to talk about one of them. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a rich, reclusive, eccentric man passes away and his relatives gather for the reading of the will. What? You've heard this one already? Stick with me, it gets good. The dead mans brother (Sheldon Lewis, the Clutching Hand himself in a surprisingly subdued performance) is confined to a wheelchair and the servants (Martha Mattox, best remembered from THE CAT AND THE CANARY, 1927 and Mischa Auer later to costar in CONDEMNED TO LIVE, 1935) are the creepiest characters you ever saw. The family attorney (Sidney Bracy) is acting mighty suspicious too. Along comes the dead man's daughter (Vera Reynolds) who seems to be the only likable member of the family. With her comes her fiancee (Rex Lease, taking a break from westerns) and his chauffeur (Sleep n' Eat who later went back to his real name, Willie Best). Also in the house is Yogi, a large chimp whom the doctor used for experiments. Everyone in the house gets a chance to say "His death was so sudden!" so right away we are ready for foul play to be mentioned. Like all houses in this genre there are lots of secret passageways but at least this time the killer does not skulk around in a cloak and black hood. It looks like the killer is Yogi the chimp. Ah, but things are not always what they seem to be! Before the 65 minute running time is over we learn about secret love affairs, children, murder plots, bribery and madness. Sadly the weakest point in the movie is the heroine herself. It hardly takes more than a clap of thunder or a shadow to start her screaming "Take me away from here!" to her fiancee. Willie Best steals many scenes with his on-the-money delivery of many great lines. When informed that his room is in the basement near Yogi's cage he responds "Well get me an umbrella and I'll sleep on the roof." Once we know there is a killer loose in the house Willie is asked if he left his gun in the glovebox of the car and he replies "No sir, it's right here!" and pulls it from his pocket. Mischa Auer is quite effective as a menacing presence but he later abandoned drama and became quite a successful comedian. Sheldon Lewis gets much more to do in this movie than he does in THE PHANTOM (1931) where he does a retread of his old Clutching Hand character. Okay so the movie is old and the plot is nothing we have not seen before; this is still a fun movie and worth catching if you are studying early talkies or if you just want something to enjoy.
Ever since the literary origins of the horror genre, stories about old
dark houses have haunted the dreams of horror fans across the globe.
Like in literature, cinema adopted this kind of stories quickly and
this Gothic branch of horror was early explored by the filmmakers.
Among the earliest movies of this kind in the "sound era", is this
little known Gothic film by Frank R. Strayer starring no one else but
Mischa Auer (whom years later would achieve fame and recognition as a
comedian) in a creepy and very dark role.
The film is about the death of a millionaire scientist, and the subsequent reading of his will. Among them are his young daughter Ruth (Vera Reynolds), his brother Robert (Sheldon Lewis) and his two servants, Mrs. Emma Turg (Martha Mattox) and her son Hanss (Mischa Auer). After the reading of the will, mysterious events begin to happen as it seems that a killer is after those more benefited by the scientist' will. This kind of plot is nowadays a cliché, but in its day it was still fresh and a favorite both among the audience and among the writers.
Made just 5 years after the first sound movie, "The Monster Walks" is a stylistically a film that still retains some features from silent films. It is one of the first works of writer Robert Ellis (who would achieve fame writing the Charlie Chan films), more exactly, his first talkie; and sadly, it shows, as it feels too stagy for its own sake. However, Ellis' love for mystery is present and while clichéd, the plot is well developed and shows why he became a master of the genre.
Strayer's direction is also a bit restrained, as if he was experimenting with the new technology. Strayer builds up his film with care and at a very slow pace, and while his lack of expertise is obvious, it's interesting to see the steps that lead to his far superior "The Vampire Bat" and "The Ghost Walks", and eventually to his highly successful "Blondie" series. It is also worth to point out that he gave both Mischa Auer and Willie Best one of their first opportunities in the business.
The acting is a mixed bag of extremes, with some members of the cast being excellent while others give rather poor performances. Mischa Auer is without a doubt among the former and while he is more recognized as a comedian, he pulls off a role clearly inspired by Lugosi and Karloff's performances on the Universal films of 1931. Martha Mattox is equally impressive as his mother but is definitely Wilie Best (under the racist pseudonym of "Sleep 'n' Eat") who steals the show with his great talent for comedy. The rest of the cast is less impressive, and while Rex Lease makes a good lead, Vera Reynolds' over the top melodrama (probably another element from silent films) is a bit annoying and distracting.
Like most films done on the Poverty Row, "The Monster Walks" suffers of a terribly low-budget and even lower production values. The old dark house scenery becomes repetitive and modern viewers may be bored by this old style of film-making. The over the top acting of some members of the cast may also be another distraction that hurts the film, but the biggest problem lays on the fact that nowadays the plot is neither original nor interesting. This last detail is definitely not the film's fault, but viewers are to be warned.
"The Monster Walks" is not a classic, and definitely not a very good film, but it is a great chance to watch how film-making was evolving as it features the early work of four great artists of the 40s and how they learned the business. As a novelty, this film is very rewarding and a nice chance to watch non-Universal horror of the origins of film. 5/10
"The Monster Walks" is a very old and very cheap haunted-house mystery thriller without much mystery. Yet, considering the budget and the experience cast & crew members disposed of, this probably isn't such a bad movie after all. I'm sure that fans of early horror films will definitely detect a lot of charm and goodwill in this typical story about a wealthy daughter that is targeted for murder upon returning to her parental house for the regulation of her dead father's inheritance. Ruth has always been petrified by her father's pet-ape and, although safely caged in the basement, some malicious persons uses the animal to scare her senseless. Rex Lease is her all-knowing doctor/boyfriend who investigates the strange nightly events and eventually reveals the true culprit. Maybe the plot-twists would have intrigued me more if the actual climax wasn't stupidly mentioned on the DVD-box, but I still can't say the script is very complex or effectively misleading. There are one or two decent suspense-moments but overall this is a dull and unexciting poverty row movie. All the lovely clichés of 30's horror cinema are there, though, like the exaggeratedly polite servants, the seemly endless thunderstorm outside the castle and the black chauffeur-guy who simultaneously serves as the comic relief. This is an okay film as long as you don't expect to see another "The Old Dark House".
THE MONSTER WALKS
An ape is killing people in an old spooky house! This movie is sooo bad, but also a wonderful example of the 1930's "haunted house" films. We love the scene where a dead body is kept in a room lit only by a single candle light...Lots of gimmicky scenes that were common in those days are practiced in this atmospheric movie. Don't miss it, it's a real treasure that will have you laughing, but also calling up some great memories of the era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the early 1930's, they had a series of these "Old Dark House"
pictures, usually involving a bunch of people brought together in an
old mansion as an unseen killer begins picking them off. This probably
had a lot to do with the fact that early talkies were produced by
people who had a lot of experience on stage, as many of the silent era
directors and actors found themselves out of their depth with the
introduction of sound.
The film's opening graphic has a picture of half-naked woman being carried off by a ape. Of course, you see nothing like this in the film, as the primary actress never gets very naked or gets touched by an ape.
The plot is simple enough. A rich man dies, leaving his entire fortune to his daughter, but her uncle is the next in line to get it if she dies. And the late millionaire had a pet ape he kept in the basement. Did the ape get out and start strangling people? Well, I'll leave you in suspense... of course not. It was old man Krug, he was the ape all along, and he'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids.
(Actually, I think this is the second movie I've reviewed with someone in an ape suit killing people, which i guess was a pretty standard fare on Poverty Row in the 30's and 40's.)
The final point is the actor credited as "Eat N Sleep", better known as Willie Best. He was typical of the way African-Americans were portrayed in this era, superstitious, subservient, and scared. You can't watch these kinds of scenes today without cringing.
This would be a decent creaky old dark house movie if it wasn't for the acting and over acting. Basically a prodigal daughter returns to her home when her father dies for the reading of the will. The servants are weird, the uncle is in a wheel chair, an abused chimp is in a cage in the basement and there are secret passages through the house. This is low budget film from the early days of sound and it seem like it. There is little background noise and no music which more times than not slows things down. Worse is the acting which seems to have been done in some odd experimental style. Misha Auer, seen in later films with a pronounced accent seems almost not to have one. His performance is very odd, especially when compared to later films. Interesting here you get to see just how big and imposing man he was. The movie is painfully slow and probably would have put me to sleep had I been just sitting and watching the film. This is not a film to recommend unless you have insomnia. Its an interesting film as a curio but isn't remarkable and the plotting is truly run of the mill. There are better ways to spend your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The set-up of this movie is very simple--a bunch of people in a house,
trying to be scary. Add an ape to good effect. Here's the idea: a woman
and her fiancé return to her childhood home after the death of her
father, who was a scientist. Her uncle, his wife, and their son reside
there as tenants and housekeepers, and they all want the money the
young woman inherited. Thus, they do the usual thing a mismatched group
of spurned relatives do in this situation: plan to kill her, framing
the dead scientist's angry ape as the murderer. Of course, they're
really bad at it, so it doesn't really work out very well.
Even though this movie was very low budget and the plot was slim, it still could have been a lot better. The direction jumps from exposition to action with very little consideration for timing, which means both fall flat and ultimately the whole set-up is given away too early, ruining any chance of suspense or horror. It's also not worth it to expect good acting from these kind of productions from this era, but on the other hand, only the black man and the messed-up son seemed to have any character. Also, is it a little wrong to ask that the movie have something to do with the title?
But worst (or perhaps best) of all, this movie does feature one very memorable scene: the worst attempt at murder EVER. Tell me, how does chaining a woman to a pole and whipping a monkey cage work to off the woman, especially when one is on a time limit? Wonderful b-movie absurdity leads to situations like that, which are very fascinating not only because they're poorly done, but you have to wonder who thought up the scene in the first place! --PolarisDiB
It was a dark and stormy night with constant cannon fire in the distance, with the wind scratching a wax record somewhere out of scene. OK the quality of the picture is not Oscar material but hey, this was 1932. At least now I know where H&B got all the gags for the Scooby Doo cartoons. As mentioned in most of the other comments this is a typical Haunted House movie, with only one or two real surprises. There is even the maniac monkey thrown in as with countless other "horror" movies of the era. Were chimps really that scary back then???? The acting is worthy of any community playhouse, I kept looking for the script cards Hanns was reading off of. And I was shocked to learn Hanns actually had musical talent - kinda... sorta... OK not really. But I did manage to make it through this movie in one setting without going comatose, but I did find myself quoting Vera at least once or twice during the movie, "Oh Ted, take me away!".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WoooOOOoooOOO... In the mood for a cheap, substandard rehash of the
1927 silent horror classic THE CAT AND THE CANARY? It's a dark and
stormy night at an old, creepy mansion. The home's wealthy owner, a
follower of the theories of Darwin for what it's worth, has just
recently bought the farm. Assorted family members and the hired help
all gather together to find out what kind of goodies the deceased has
left them. Friend and attorney Herbert Wilkes (Sidney Bracey) presides
over the reading of the will. Present and accounted for are the wimpy,
overly emotional daughter Ruth (Vera Reynolds), her doctor boyfriend
Ted (Rex Lease), wheelchair bound Uncle Robert (Sheldon Lewis), fraidy
cat black chauffeur Exodus (Willie Best aka Sleep 'n' Eat), elderly
maid Emma (Martha Mattox) and her very tall and menacing half wit son
Hans (Mischa Auer), who... speaks... very... very... slowly... Even
though the deceased made sure everyone basically got what they
deserved, he left the majority of his cash (50,000 bucks) and his home
to his daughter. One, or perhaps several, of the others decide they
want poor Ruth dead so they can get her share of the inheritance. Did I
forget to mention there's also a hyperactive "ape" (chimp) named Yogi
locked up in the cellar? Everyone shudders in fear about the dreaded
evil monkey being in the same home as them even though it never once
leaves its cage. It basically just lets out the occasional shriek,
bounces up and down, grabs the cage bars and shakes it all around, and
later becomes an easy scapegoat when one of the characters ends up dead
with hand prints around their throat. Exodus says "I had a grand pappy
who looked somethin' like him!" Groan.
Fans of cheap old horror flix will be all-too-familiar with this film's set-up, plot and roster of stock characters. The whole thing is dull, lifeless, excessively talky, set-bound and hopelessly clichéd, and that's even when you put in context of the time it was made. The one pseudo scary moment, as a hairy arm reaches through the back of a bed toward the sleeping leading lady, is lifted directly from the aforementioned CAT/CANARY, the supposed comic relief isn't the least bit amusing, the revelation of the killer(s) is predictable and the acting is horribly stiff from nearly everyone concerned, with Bracey and Mattox being the least offensive of the bunch. The sound quality is also bad and the sets are so flimsy that when someone knocks on a door the whole wall shakes like it's about to fall over. It's only worth checking out for a couple of unintended laughs or for monkey movie fetishists.
The owner dies and leaves his fortune to his daughter (Vera Reynolds),
but the brother (Sheldon Lewis) wants it for himself and the son (Oscar
nominee Mischa Auer) he is hiding. He plans to have the son eliminate
everyone so he can grab the riches.
The plan goes awry when the son kills his mother (Martha Mattox) by mistake. He turns on his father and tries to kill the daughter.
It was a weird little film, just out of the silent era, and there was more talking than anything.
Of course, they have the stereotypical black chauffeur (Willie Best, who was listed in the credits as Sleep 'n' Eat). I kid you not! I last remember Best from High Sierra. He has a long career with numerous roles, probably many of them doing that stereotypical frightened black man.
Not very scary for a haunted house.
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