The Monster Walks
Perhaps this is a trite observation, but the ending of a movie is crucial to how the movie is viewed as a whole. This is probably no more evident than in horror movies, when the final moments either give us a sense of relief that the horror is over or one last stab of panic as we learn that the horror isn’t over; in the horror universe, it rarely is. One of my favorite horror movie endings is from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. It parallels the dream at the beginning of the movie and fakes out the main character and audience, making us think Freddy’s really gone, only to have him return cackling with glee. One of the reasons the monster or serial killer or ghost returns at the end of a horror film is because the final scene is a sort of takeaway for the whole film; a horrifying final scene cements that sense of dread and terror the viewer felt during the rest of the film. This isn’t to say a good horror movies needs to have the ‘last stab of panic’ to have a good ending. There’s nothing left to fear at the end of The Last Man on Earth, but it has a spectacular final scene. The Thing has a very calm denouement and open ending, but it’s great. Older, campier horror movies can even get away with happy endings because the ending just reinforces the joyful silliness of the movie. The ending is the takeaway for the whole film, which is why I’m not sure I can ever like The Monster Walks. The last line is the punchline to a racist joke that pretty much ruins the film, whatever redeeming qualities it might have.
In The Monster Walks, the story goes that a man by the name of Mr. Earlton has just died. His daughter Ruth, her fiancé Dr. Ted Clayton, and the executor of Mr. Earlton’s will Mr. Wilkes have all come to Mr. Earlton’s mansion to deal with his final will and testament. A small group of people is gathered to hear the will: Ruth the daughter, Mrs. Krug the housekeeper, Hanns another creepy housekeeper, and Robert, Mr. Earlton’s infirm brother. Ruth gets a large share of the money and estate with very small portions given out to Mr. Earlton’s brother Robert and one of the two housekeepers, Mrs. Krug. Since the film is set in a mansion at night during a thunderstorm, Ruth, Ted, and Mr. Wilkes are forced to spend the night in the house. Mrs. Krug and her son Hanns plot a way to get rid of Ruth to claim a larger portion of the inheritance. Everyone goes to bed, but Ruth is almost strangled by what looks like a chimp’s hand as she sleeps in her guest room; there’s a chimp locked in a cage in the basement because Mr. Earlton performed experiments on it. The house is thrown into a furor; Ted and Mr. Wilkes start sleuthing for clues, trying to figure out who must have let the chimp out of the cage; they tacitly accept that the chimp is homicidal and wants to kill Ruth, so it’s just a matter of finding out who let it out. Mrs. Krug stays with Ruth, ostensibly to keep her safe, but she’s strangled to death by the chimp hand. Ted reasons that it must be Robert, but gives up that line of inquiry when he finds out that Robert isn’t just faking the infirmity. Of course, then we find out that Robert really was the mastermind and he was urging Hanns to set the chimp loose on Ruth when Hanns confronts Robert about it. Hanns is angry at Robert, since he urged Hanns to set loose the chimp that killed his mother; I really hope I get to write more sentences like that in the future. Anyhow, Hanns reveals that he is Robert’s son and strangles Robert in anger; Hanns is one step closer to having the inheritance. While Ted and Mr. Wilkes go searching for the chimp around the house, Hanns takes the opportunity to grab Ruth and take her into the basement. He riles up the chimp by whipping at it, hoping to set the enraged chimp on Ruth. However, the chimp grabs the whip, reels Hanns in, and strangles him to death, incidentally saving Ruth. If only the film had ended here, when Ted and Mr. Wilkes came to rescue her…
If The Monster Walks had just been what I describe above, it would have been a perfect, cheesy horror movie. Unfortunately, the movie added one more inconsequential character named Exodus, Ted’s black chauffeur. Exodus shows up every once in a while as comic relief, since he’s afraid to sleep in the house, which still has the late Mr. Earlton lying in his bed, and he’s afraid of the chimp. As a cowardly black man serving as comic relief, Exodus is pretty bad racist caricature, but his antics were not prominent and I could almost forget he was there if not for the final scene. Exodus rushes down the stairs behind Ted and Mr. Wilkes to rescue Ruth. After Ted unties Ruth and walks off, Exodus asks Mr. Wilkes why Mr. Earlton kept a chimp in his basement. Mr. Wilkes explains that Mr. Earlton was a proponent of Darwinian evolution and when further queried responds that Darwinian evolution states that man evolved from apes like the chimp. The final line in the film is Exodus’s remark that he’s not sure he believes all that, but he did have an uncle that looked like that chimp. Generally speaking, I’m not one to swear, but since I was in private and this was quite egregious, I exclaimed something to the effect of “Fuck, that was terrible. Goddamnit.”
I can’t muster enough objectivity to say the film was a product of its time, if only because racism is still a problem in cinema. Those of you watched the first two Transformers movies may have noticed Jazz, the jive-talking black robot, the only Tranformer to die, in the first film and the pair of ignorant-sounding Transformers, Mudflap and Skidz, who talked about busting caps, one of whom had a gold tooth, in the second film; I never got past the second film. How many of you remember Jar Jar Binks, easily the most reviled Star Wars character of all time? All four characters were comic relief in big budget franchises aimed at adults and children; they’re not just the works of a few backward racists. These are just a couple cases, but I don’t have the heart to search for any more examples; that could only end in heartbreak. I wanted to like The Monster Walks for being a campy mystery/horror film with a homicidal chimp a la “The Murders of Rue Morgue,” except that story involved an orangutan. However, I have little tolerance for Exodus and I have none whatsoever for his modern counterparts.