Plot: A mysterious disappearance has local authorities baffled, but a store clerk turned amateur sleuth (Johnny Arthur) intends to crack the case himself. After all, he has just received his graduation packet from a detective school, so he is ready to put his skills of deduction into action. As it turns out, the recent disappearance isn’t the first one in the area and a pattern seems to be forming. As he tracks down clues, he finds himself investigating close to an abandoned mental asylum, quite an eerie location. Inside the creepy locale, he discovers that the place isn’t so abandoned and the strange Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney) has more or less taken over. But why is Ziska so interested in the asylum and is he somehow connected to the disappearance?
Entertainment Value: The Monster is an odd movie in some ways, as it is has a lot of the “old, dark house” type elements and creates some eerie atmosphere, but it also relies on comedic touches. I’ve seen a lot of horror comedies of course, but the recipe here feels off in most scenes, as the horror tends to be more effective, but the filmmakers seem to want to emphasize the humor. The comic elements are passable at times, downright flat at others, so it is an inconsistent result, made perhaps even less effective by a rather slow pace and long run time. While The Monster clocks in under 90 minutes, it feels much longer in some stretches and that is never a good sign, especially with such a light, comedic tone like this. The horror side works better and the visuals shine throughout, with good cinematography and atmospheric production design touches, though it all simply serves as background noise here. Even so, there are some fun or worthwhile moments sprinkled throughout The Monster, so fans of silent horror or Lon Chaney might still want to give it a peek.
While the “old, dark house” elements might lure in some horror fans, I think the main draw of The Monster is the presence of Lon Chaney. The role isn’t one that pushes Chaney as a performer or makeup artist, which might disappoint some, but it is a solid effort. I also think some might be let down by his limited screen time, as he isn’t the main focus of the movie, with Johnny Arthur’s character in that position. So he doesn’t have a lot of time in this one, but when Chaney does appear, he is memorable and at least elevates the material. That does make me wish he was around more, since his scenes tend to be highlights and some of The Monster’s other stretches leave a little to be desired in most ways. Even so, he is always a welcome sight and while not the lead, he adds a lot to this movie and his fans will likely appreciate his work here, even if it isn’t among his best. The cast also includes Johnny Arthur, Gertrude Olmstead, Frank Austin, and Hallam Cooley.