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The Human Monster (1939)

by on 2012/10/14

“Thames water is muddy.”

* * *

My father, an insurance broker his whole professional life, used to famously say he’d rather spectacularly take his own life than sell life insurance.

I’m not entirely sure why he avoided life insurance like the proverbial plague. He preferred, what seemed to me, entirely less interesting types of insurance – business, auto and home. Perhaps life insurance was off-putting to him because of the depressing conversations you needed to have with people – he really hated talking about death – or maybe it was simply the need to juggle urine samples after a long day at the office. I was never really sure.

The Human Monster provides a possible clue. Bela Lugosi (Devil Bat) plays Dr. Feodor Orloff, a disgraced doctor turned life insurance salesman with a dark and terrible secret.

Bela need only smile to confirm he’s up to no good, even as he’s going through the dull machinations of filing away insurance policies. And to say he’s up to no good, well, that’s putting it really mildly.

This is a genuinely creepy offering for the 1930s. Think a black and white Law & Order, CSI or Criminal Minds. Water-logged corpses clog the Thames River in London. Crime scene photos show faces frozen in a rictus of terror.

Worst still, Dr. Orloff uses a home for the blind as his base of operations. Worse, worse still he experiments on the poor basket-weaving folks who live there, using electroshock therapy. Worse, worse, worse still his henchman Jake (Wilfred Walter) is a lurching, flailing monster in a cheap Halloween fright mask, with a lumpy pillow stuffed under his flannel shirt.

Talk about disrespecting the blind. In fact, this movie was once billed, The Dead Eyes of London. All very, very un-PC.

I guess the main moral of the story is once you are involved in one act of corruption, you have to keep the bad acts coming, fast and furious, to cover things up. Bodies pile up like stacks of timber in this story.

To offset the pure evil that is Bela Lugosi in this movie, there’s Detective Inspector Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) who is  fresh-faced, idealistic, and hot on the trial of insurance fraud and murder most foul. There’s also the lovely Diana Stuart (Greta Gynt) whose own father turned up dead. The camera does love Ms. Gynt in this movie directed by Walter Summers.

While the police procedural elements of the piece drag it down like a body sinking in a Thames mud flat, there’s nothing like a murderous Bela Lugosi chewing up the scenery, scheming over bubbling vials of toxic medicine, and making a blonde lovely scream.

* * *

76 minutes

Rated PG for a complete absence of political correctness, medical torture scenes, and Bela Lugosi and fiends killing a whole lot of people

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