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The Monster is a 1925 comedy/horror film directed by Roland West, starring Lon Chaney.

Johnny Goodlittle (Johnny Arthur) is a shop clerk in a small town who aspires to be a detective, and is even taking a correspondence course to learn how. Being an aspiring detective, he is intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy local man, John Bowman, who vanished after crashing his car. The local constable doesn't think much of the clue found at the crash scene, a card from the local insane asylum with the word "help" written on it, reminding Johnny that the asylum has been closed for years. And nobody respects Johnny, the town Butt-Monkey, so his objections are overlooked.

In fact Bowman is at the asylum. His wreck was caused by a mysterious man in a cloak, who went out at night and hung a mirror over a curve in the road, causing Bowman to veer off the road and crash. Not long after, on another dark and stormy night, the man in the cloak does this again. This time the people in the wrecked car are Betty (Gertrude Olmstead), the local girl that Johnny has a crush on, and Betty's boyfriend Amos (Hallam Cooley). Betty and Amos stagger away from the wrecked car and find themselves at the asylum, which is now being occupied by sinister Dr. Ziska (Chaney). At the same time a wanderer from the asylum has revealed to Johnny that Bowman is being held there. Johnny winds up stumbling into a trap door and falling into the asylum basement. Johnny, Betty, and Amos then have to fight for their lives against the deranged Dr. Ziska, who has ominous plans for them.

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The Monster is one of the most memorable of the many horror films Chaney made in The Roaring '20s. Based on a play by Crane Wilbur, it is one of the first examples of the Old, Dark House genre of horror (pre-dating The Old Dark House by seven years). It is also a very early example of the Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror, balancing Johnny's bumbling misadventres with the genuinely chilling Dr. Ziska.


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Tropes:

  • Alcohol Hic: Since this is a silent film, we actually see a title card that says "Hic!", after Johnny gets into the liquor that Amos poured into the water jug.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Johnny has taken a correspondence course on how to be a detective.
  • Berserk Button: The only time Dr. Ziska drops his Slasher Smile is when Amos calls him mad. Ziska does not like that, not one little bit.
  • Camp Straight: Johnny has some effiminate, unmanly mannerisms, but apparently is heterosexual, as evidenced by his attraction to Betty. Actor Johnny Arthur would go on to play a lot of Transparent Closet roles in his career.
  • Chekhov's Gun / Foreshadowing: When Johnny graduates from detective correspondence school he receives, along with his diploma, a gun (!), some oversized handcuffs, and some signal flares. Johnny tells the skeptical insurance investigator that the flares are for signaling for help at night. When Johnny asks the insurance investigator how to handle a dangerous suspect, the investigator says "Find a derrick somewhere and hang him up by the heels." Johnny actually loses the gun, but everything else comes into play: he signals for help with the flares, he chains Caliban's ankles together with the cuffs, and then he gets a hook and chain to hang Caliban up by the heels.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Johnny ducks behind a curtain when other people enter the mansion, but it's Amos and Betty.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Ziska serves Amos and Betty a decanter of alcohol. Amos and Betty, worried that it might be drugged, decide to pour it into a water jug and pretend they drank it.
  • Idiot Ball: Among the knick-knacks in Dr. Ziska's basement is an electric chair. Amos sits on it.
  • The Igor: Rigo is a perfect example—wears a cloak, walks with a stoop, utterly loyal to Mad Scientist Dr. Ziska, helps Ziska with his homicidal schemes.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The standard thunderstorm with Dramatic Lightning lends atmosphere after Johnny, Amos, and Betty are trapped in the old house.
  • Knockout Gas: The room that Johnny, Amos, and Betty are in has a fireplace that starts emitting knockout gas. Johnny and Amos escape, but Betty is captured when the bed she's lying on turns out to be a trap that's lowered into the basement.
  • Liquid Courage: "I got the strangest sort of courage", says Johnny after he drinks some of Ziska's liquor, and in fact he is a lot braver after that.
  • Love Triangle: Amos, his girl Betty, and Johnny who's in love with Betty. The final scene reveals that Johnny's bravery in the asylum won Betty's heart.
  • Mad Scientist: Ziska, once a famous surgeon who was then a patient in Dr. Edwards's asylum before he and his fellow inmates rebelled and took it over, seeks to "learn the secret of life".
  • Mood Whiplash: Used effectively as part of the Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror. The chilling opening scene, in which Rigo lowers the mirror from an overhanging tree branch, thus causing Bowman to crash, is followed by a comic scene with the bumbling townsfolk trying to figure out what the hell happened at the wreck.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast / Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Ziska has a slave named "Caliban".
  • Obviously Evil: Dr. Ziska, with his menacing leer, doesn't try very hard to hide it.
  • Old, Dark House: Maybe the earliest example of this trope. The mansion/asylum currently occupied by Dr. Ziska has hidden passageways, hidden trap doors, steel shutters that slide down in front of the windows to prevent escape, and fireplaces rigged to emit knockout gas. And of course it's got Ziska's creepy lab down in the basement.
  • Police are Useless: Johnny finds a card from the asylum at the crash site, with the word "help" written on it. The constable is not interested.
  • Sharing a Body: That's Ziska's Mad Scientist idea, anyway, to transplant a man's soul into a woman's body. He's defeated before he gets a chance to see if it works.
  • Slasher Smile: Dr. Ziska's default expression is a very scary mirthless grin.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: A pretty good example of the "balanced" type, mixing comedy scenes with goofy Johnny along with scenes featuring the scary Dr. Ziska and his creepy minions.
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