(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
Frank R. Strayer’s The Monster Walks is a dated chore from 1932. Featuring a screenplay by Robert Ellis and tepid cinematography from Jules Cronjager, this poor excuse for entertainment fires its way through the “old dark house” trope and includes a creepy dude in a wheelchair, an ape named Yogi with a horrible scream and a pile of eerie, foreign servants.
Strayer would go on to work with Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill in 1933’s The Vampire Bat, but his outing here is just dismal in every sense of the word. The film lacks innovation, with the camera merely presenting people talking and cutting away to shots of a shrieking ape at inopportune times. Everything about the aesthetic of The Monster Walks is askew, making the movie all the more problematic.
After the death of her father, Ruth (Vera Reynolds) and her fiancé Dr. Ted Clayton (Rex Lease) arrive at his mansion to hear the reading of the will. There is an ape named Yogi around and he seems to really freak people out. Apparently Ruth’s dad did experiments in the basement. Ruth’s wheelchair-bound uncle Robert (Sheldon Lewis) is also milling around.
The will reveals that the money and the estate will be left to Ruth, but it will pass to Robert should anything happen to the poor girl. This pisses off the servants, causing Hanns Krug (Mischa Auer) and his mother (Martha Mattox) some distress. Soon, a monster of some sort appears to start distressing Ruth. The terror continues well into the night.
Willie Best, who for some reason goes by Sleep N’ Eat in the credits, plays the manservant of Ruth and Dr. Clayton. His name is Exodus and he is essentially responsible for providing the comic relief, much like most African-American actors of the period. He prattles on about going to play some “peewee golf” when he hears the ape, plus he gets to trip over a polar bear skin rug.
Much of the film is spent discussing the will and following different characters as they saunter slowly around the house. There are also critical scenes featuring people weeping over corpses, plus the damn dirty ape bounces around in his cage for a spell. Other characters plot their nefarious schemes and curse each other out in absurd fashion, with most of the action taking place well out of frame.
The dialogue is awful and delivered in awful fashion, with characters spacing their words out to maximize…the…tension. Lease is insipid as the protagonist and his defensive instincts are off the page, as he clutches Ruth and holds her close the second he realizes the primate is after her. He’s a good ol’ boy, typical of most milquetoast supermen of the era. Also, he looks downright virtuous in a robe.
Strayer and Cronjager don’t do anything to bring the audience into the haunting feel of the house. They don’t even bother with exterior shots, so there’s never any sense of scale. Nobody knows what the place looks like, although there are a few moments where the weather outside seems to come into play. Someone rattles a cookie sheet pretty hard to produce lightning, while there’s also a bit of wind.
There is a hilarious moment near the end of the film that involves Hanns whipping the crap out of Yogi and getting his just desserts. Like with all his other attempts at horror, Strayer cuts to reaction shots and has a bound Ruth faint. Again. This particular sequence is followed by a painfully offensive moment that has Sleep N’ Eat compared to…the ape. “Darwinian theory” comes into it and it’s all very gross.
The Monster Walks is rough. Expectations are generally low when it comes to horror cheapies, but this really is the bottom of the barrel. Strayer would accomplish a lot more with The Vampire Bat and some of his other bargain pictures and that’s a good thing. But this flick still exists and that, dear friends, is a vile curse indeed.