1925 was a good year for Lon Chaney. He
had become a big name star with The Hunchback of Notre Dame
the unsettling He Who Gets Slapped
the following year. In '25 he would
release two more outstanding films, The
Phantom of the Opera and The Unholy
Three, along with a more minor film, The
Monster opposite comedian Johnny Arthur.
This lesser know Chaney film is now available through Warner
Archives. The film tries to meld
Arthur's humorous milksop character with some chilling 'old house'
while each of them works on their own, the two elements don't really
(did the producer or director really think they would?).
Even with this flaw, Chaney gives a great
performance and the film is actually very enjoyable.
When a local rich farmer, John Bowman, goes missing one
evening, the local general store stock boy, Johnny Goodlittle (Arthur)
chance to solve a real live mystery!
He's been taking a correspondence class in how to be a
detective, and no
sooner does he graduate (getting a diploma, a pair of hand cuffs, and a
for his efforts) than this mystery drops in his lap.
The local sheriff thinks that the farmer is dead, so the
insurance company sends their own investigator to see what's what. Johnny tries to convince the man that
something fishy is going on in the local insane asylum that has
closed, but he doesn't see any connection.
So one stormy night Johnny investigates himself and ends up
trapped in the asylum with the girl of his dreams, Betsy Watson
Olmstead), and her beau Amos Rugg (Hallam Cooley).
They aren't alone of course. Dr.
Ziska (Chaney) has reopened the
institution and runs it along with the sinister and very strong Caliban
James) and the possible maniac Rigo (George Austin).
Can the three escape the creepy house before
Dr. Ziska reveals his sinister plans?
The film starts our nicely, with a creepy guy in a tree
lowering a large mirror onto a road in the middle of the night and
accident when the driver veers off the road to avoid the illusionary
car. With a title like The
Monster, a star like Lon Chaney, and
an opening like that, I settled in for a nice eerie film.
The movie takes an odd turn from there however. It
becomes a comedy. While the locals are
examining the scene of
the accident Amos Rugg, sitting on Bowman's wrecked car, declares "I'll
new spark plug that Bowman met with some kind of accident." We're also introduced to Johnny Goodlittle
and his book "How to Become a Detective", which becomes a running gag
film. The book gives the same advice for
every situation: that a detective needs
to use his ingenuity. Goodlittle starts
quoting that, and he's soon the butt of jokes in the town.
This thing is, a lot of the comedic parts of the film are
pretty funny. When Johnny asks the
insurance company detective for advice gets the following nugget of
information: Whenever I'm in danger I
close my eyes and count to ten. Try that
and see what happens."
Once they get to the old house on the hill, the film does
get creepy once again. The old asylum is
filled with trap doors and all of the widows have steel doors that will
down if someone tries to open them.
Shadows knock on doors and when the trapped trio discovers a
sitting in a chair, only to see him revived by Dr. Ziska the film
Lon Chaney gives a great performance, as always, though his
part is more of a supporting player than a star. He's
unsettling when first introduced and
becomes more eerie as the film progresses.
The climax of the film gives Chaney a reason to let loose and
highlight of the movie. It's too bad
that after that, they decided to end the film with a joke.
The 86 minute movie comes on a DVD-R in a standard keepcase.
This silent film has a orchestral score performed by an
uncredited group. I'm assuming that it
was done by the MGM orchestra for a re-release in the early talkie era. It's fine, as far as it goes, but it's clear
that they didn't put a lot of thought into the music.
The audio is fine, though not exceptional.
I was pleased with the full frame image. While
it's not perfect the picture does look
very good for a film that's over 85 years old.
The contrast is generally good, though a couple of night scenes
little on the dark side, and the level of detail is fine.
There is some minor print damage, mainly dust
and spots, but it's never distracting. Overall this is a very nice
A rather odd mix of comedy and horror, the film isn't
perfect but it is entertaining. Chaney
does a great job as the mad Dr. Ziska and even if his role isn't the
the film, it's still worth watching for that alone.