Tuesday, October 26, 2021

NIGHT OF TERROR (Benjamin Stoloff, 1933)


A psychopath stalks the Rinehart Estate, an inhuman monster who preys upon the beneficiaries of the family (mis)fortune. Oh, and there’s also a stabby maniac who randomly kills people and pins his newspaper headlines upon the corpses. This “Old Dark House” horror film makes little sense but has some wonderful compositions and the use of low-key lighting by DP Joseph Valentine creates a sinister atmosphere amid the camp and hijinks. 

So, a deformed maniac is being pursued by the police and coincidentally ends up at the Rinehart Estate where Dr. Hornsby (George Meeker) is experimenting with suspended animation. Mary Rinehart (Sally Blane) is engaged to the Dr. but must defend herself from the intimate advances of another suitor, reporter Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford), who commits at least one felony and a handful of misdemeanors in his amorous assaults! These disparate plots crash together into a murder-mystery of pseudo-science, rogue police, fatal fortune-telling, Avunculicide, and betrayed betrothals that becomes not only a whodunit but a howdunit. It’s not totally satisfying but it doesn’t overstay its welcome at 61 minutes! The film also takes liberties in its final act to depict the murderer’s technique which diminishes the impact, like a joke that needs explained. Bela Lugosi is top-billed and he’s in it a great deal as the turban-topped servant Degar, whose strange actions and reactions allow us to assume he’s a killer. Director Benjamin Stoloff plays with the editing and two-shot compositions to give us just enough information to realize that, upon reflection, one or more people may be responsible for the mayhem. But the reveal in the final act is done without foreshadowing and feels too contrived. There may be a better film buried in this maniacal morass! Overall, an immemorable hour of Pre-Code antics that unfortunately belittles and degrades its lone minority, the stuttering Chauffeur, Martin (Oscar Smith) who cowers and screams at every gag. It’s enough to make me gag. 

Final Grade: (C-)