13 April 2011 | kevinolzak
Impressed even Alfred Hitchcock
1942's NIGHT MONSTER was a staple of Universal's SHOCK! package of classic horrors issued to television in the late 50s, showing up 6 times on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater from 1966 to 1983. This was the only Universal to grant Bela Lugosi top billing since the 1931 Dracula, with even 1932's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE listing him below not-so-virginal ingénue Sidney Fox (a triumph for the casting couch!). For the record, other servant/butler roles Lugosi played can be found in 1933's NIGHT OF TERROR, 1939's THE GORILLA, 1944's ONE BODY TOO MANY, 1945's THE BODY SNATCHER, 1946's GENIUS AT WORK, and 1956's THE BLACK SLEEP. His Rolf has little to do, but he was still a regular participant in the studio's horrors, and always a welcome presence. 'A scream in the night through the fog on Pollard Slough,' hiding something so hideously terrifying that even the frogs stop croaking whenever its shadow passes by (if that doesn't set the proper mood, nothing will!). The opening credits are presented in front of the same forest set built for THE WOLF MAN, featuring music identical to the credits for THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. Second billed Lionel Atwill also plays a small role, but it's the one doctor he's best suited for, getting good scene stealing mileage out of his exasperated reactions to Francis Pierlot's gland obsessed fellow physician. Kudos to beloved character actor Frank Reicher, best remembered for KING KONG, whose sensitive realistic portrayal of Dr. Timmons is vastly different from the bombastic Atwill. Tending the wealthy and powerful Kurt Ingston in his time of illness, the three have left him 'a helpless cripple, a misshapen thing that must hide even from the servants in the house.' Ralph Morgan is in top form as the wheelchair bound owner of Ingston Towers, with hilarious support from Leif Erickson as the lecherous chauffeur Laurie, even daring to flirt with Doris Lloyd's icy housekeeper, whom he refers to as 'old frozen face.' Little used actress Janet Shaw enjoys one of her few major roles, as Millie Carson, the suspicious maid who abruptly quits without notice, but makes the fatal mistake of returning for her belongings after nightfall, becoming the first on screen victim of the prowling horror, to the eerie silence of the fog shrouded darkness. Director Alfred Hitchcock was preparing SHADOW OF A DOUBT at Universal that summer, and screened this picture because he wanted to cast Janet as a burned out waitress in his film ('I'd just die for a ring like that'). Hitchcock was duly impressed by what he saw in NIGHT MONSTER, and was amazed that it was shot with great style and pace in just 11 days by producer-director Ford Beebe, who had just graduated from serial work. Despite the disappointment for some Lugosi buffs, this fan has long championed its qualities to remain genuinely frightening even today, receiving its long awaited due as a Universal horror classic, a real ensemble piece where the entire cast stands out, a genuine chiller that featured prominently on Chiller Theater, perfect viewing in the dark at 2:00 in the morning.