Night Monster (1942)


You see, all matter is nothing but vibrations.  Modern Science has told us that.  But they weren’t the first ones to learn this.  Oh, no!  So, if you can learn the ancient science of the yogis — and yes, it was a science — then you can take matter apart and move it around as you need…

And here we are again, blaming a clearly — no, let’s say “absurdly” — supernatural happening on science.

This is one of the more interesting lesser horror films Universal made in the Forties, although don’t be fooled by the top billing given to Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill.  They both have relatively minor parts, with Lugosi getting a fair amount of screen time as a sinister butler, and Atwill playing a doctor who gets killed off quite quickly.  As we never see the murder, and don’t even get a glimpse of his corpse, I have a sneaking suspicion that he left — or was fired from — the production and they wrote him out rather quickly.  Considering the scandal that destroyed his career was in its terminal phases right around this time, that might have had a lot to do with it.

Another curious quirk is that we never get to see the monster until the end — however, one suspects this was not done to generate suspense, but for the very simple reason that it would give away the ending if we did.  Consequentially, this is also one of the least visually interesting (and frankly, least scary) monsters in the Universal stable.  Like a certain 1932 effort that also starred Lionel Atwill this does ensure that the least likely suspect is responsible, and for somewhat similar reasons.  However, that film at least made its monster unrecognizable and hideous.  Which could have been done in this one as well, vibrations or not.

I also find myself thinking of Larry Buchanan’s 1967 remake of The She Creature, Creature of Destruction, which also features a occult creature and similar appeals to science mixed with the most absurd occult claims (something you do not find in Edward L. Cahn’s version).  However, equating science and the mystic arts had become quite a common notion in the Forties, thanks in part to Rhine’s ESP research and the cult of celebrity around Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society.  These ideas were in the wind, and they ended up in movies, on the radio, and even in the Science Fiction magazines, thanks largely to John W. Campbell, Jr. at Astounding.

Somehow, all the talk of vibrations leads me to think they are talking about Quantum Mechanics, although it sounds a little more like modern String Theory.  Although the notion of some sort of “cosmic substance” that is doing the vibrating sounds far more like those old notions of the Ether than anything in modern science.

Mind you, it’s easy enough to find in Theosophy and other occult systems.  But then, that’s the point.

Now, all this talk of vibrations does at least give us one startling image, as the resident mystic, Agor Singh, puts on an elaborate show with a skeleton (complete with cursed gem), which he claims came from a tomb in Greece.

But, sadly, it isn’t the creature murdering everyone.  That would be way cooler than what we actually get.

All in all, it is an interesting and somewhat quirky Horror film that is better than most of what Universal was making at the time.

One just wishes they hadn’t dragged science into it, that’s all.

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