GORE IN THE STORE
THE DARK EYES OF LONDON ***
Directed by Walter Summers.
Starring Bela Lugosi, Hugh Williams, Greta Gynt, Edmon Ryan.
Horror/Mystery, UK, 76 mins, cert PG.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Network on 11th October 2021.
Also known as THE HUMAN MONSTER, THE DARK EYES OF LONDON is a 1939 British production based on the book by Edgar Wallace and featuring everyone's favourite Hungarian Hollywood star Bela Lugosi, whose fortunes had somewhat faded since the glory days of his defining performance in 1931s DRACULA. Horror movies weren't exactly forthcoming out of American studios post-1935, although they were about to make a comeback with Universal’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (also starring Lugosi with arguably his best performance), but before then Lugosi came over to Blighty to be the ‘star’ name in this cheap little feature, the first to feature an ‘H For Horrific' rating from the BBFC.
Lugosi plays Dr. Orloff, the not-at-all-creepy owner of a life insurance company. The fact that a so-called doctor happens to be insuring people’s lives doesn’t seem to bother anybody but when his customers start turning up dead and their policies are cashed in and paid to the Dearborn Home for the Destitute Blind – of which Dr. Orloff is a very philanthropic patron of – then questions need to be asked, and it is up to Detective Inspector Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) to ask them as he accompanies American detective Patrick O’Reilly (Edmon Ryan) around London. O’Reilly is a Chicago police officer escorting a prisoner back from the US but that prisoner is a master forger and also happens to be a client of Dr. Orloff’s – whatever could be going on?
Pretty obvious really, once you get into it but that doesn’t stop THE DARK EYES OF LONDON being an enjoyable little thriller. Bela Lugosi is being billed as ‘the star’ and he is relishing being the centre of the story and playing it as a proto-1970s Bond villain by chewing the scenery and clearly being a wrong ‘un from the moment Orloff writes his first cheque. Props must also go to Hugh Williams, who puts in a solid turn as the dogged detective who has to piece it all together, which isn’t exactly difficult once all of the plot details are made clear but it is fun watching him follow the trail and pick up the clues, however obvious they may be to us.
The ‘monster’ part of the alternative title looks extremely hokey by today’s standards -possibly even by 1939 standards, given how the fake teeth look like they came out of a Christmas cracker – but his plight, as well as that of the other blind characters, is treated with a modicum of sympathy from the script, which is more than can be said for some of the performances from the supporting cast, which range from the totally wooden to the downright irritating, the latter especially in the case of Edmon Ryan as O’Reilly, who is supposed to be the American comic relief but feels like somebody let the cabaret act on set to have a go at that acting lark. It doesn’t sit right with Lugosi’s more dramatic performance and smacks of contractual obligation having him in there undermining Hugh Williams’s attempts to take it all seriously.
But if you really want to enjoy THE DARK EYES OF LONDON to its fullest then it is best to watch it with the accompanying commentary by critic/author Kim Newman and author Stephen Jones, whose insights and knowledge help make the movie rumble along a little less sluggishly. The duo also appear in a short featurette in the extras where they discuss Bela Lugosi’s British film career, which was filmed in the Edgar Wallace pub in London as a nice touch, and the disc also comes with a booklet written by film historian Adrian Smith, postcards and O-ring sleeve, which will look splendid on your shelf with your other Bela Lugosi Blu-rays. THE DARK EYES OF LONDON is a fun thriller that could probably have done with a little more horror added to the mix to make it a great thriller, but it is always a treat to see Bela Lugosi hamming it up as only he can and watching him do so in a pristine black-and-white HD print with an essential audio commentary to accompany it is the only way to do it.
From here we are plunged back into the immediate aftermath of part 1. Without going into further spoilers, it can at least be said that the tense atmosphere and near silence is ramped up once more. Despite their recent loss the stakes are higher than ever for the Abbott family as they leave what was once the safe haven of their home. Encountering Cillian Murphy’s Emmett, the stage is set for confrontation against the lethal invaders as well as the possible threat of what may be left of civilisation.
The cast acquit themselves admirably yet again with the advancement of their characters, aided by Krasinski’s script. Millicent Simmonds proves herself to be one of horror cinemas most sympathetic heroines to face off against aliens since Ellen Ripley, with her own quest to take them out, whilst Noah Jupe gains the audience’s sympathy even more with his own anxiety inducing set pieces to contend with.
While the pace may flag in its latter half compared to its predecessor, Krasinski still delivers a crowd-pleasing piece of spectacle that deserves to be seen on a big screen. Where the majority of sequels feel the need to go bigger and edge more to the ridiculous, Krasinski keeps things admirably pared down in line with the first film, making the most of elements such as a claustrophobic pressure chamber and an abandoned train carriage. Where it goes from here with the already announced follow up is anyone’s guess, particularly with Jeff Nichols taking the reins. It seems a smart move but whether it can hold an audience to silent attention like this, as was the case with the socially distanced yet still busy audience I experienced it with, will have to be seen. Hopefully the wait won’t be as long as the one we have all just gone through as this seems to be that rare beast; a big budget mainstream horror franchise that is as smart as it is scary and always entertaining.