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  Monkey's Paw, The Five Fingers Of Death
Year: 1948
Director: Norman Lee
Stars: Milton Rosmer, Megs Jenkins, Michael Martin Harvey, Eric Micklewood, Brenda Hogan, Mackenzie Ward, Joan Seton, Norman Shelley, Alfie Bass, Rose Howlett, Hay Petrie, Sydney Tafler, Patrick Ward, Vincent Lawson
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: This antiques merchant (Hay Petrie) is hoping to make a sale from the latest dealer (Sydney Tafler) to cross his doorstep, but he cannot get him interested in what he regards as a prime piece of merchandise, a statue reputed to belong to Genghis Khan, when all the dealer wants is this unassuming-looking monkey's paw which is under glass. The merchant is reluctant to part with it for there is a mystique around the object suggestive of the properties of luck: apparently, all you have to do is hold it and make a wish, and that wish will be granted. There must be a catch, but the dealer isn't bothered about that, all he sees is a lucrative sale, so off he goes with a selection of objects as a bargain to accompany the paw...

W.W. Jacobs was an English writer who hit the big time with his spooky tales, in particular one which continues to exert a fascination over readers even to this day. In 1902, he penned The Monkey's Paw, one of the prototype works of zombie fiction that has gone on to influence a host of stories from the low budget Canadian Vietnam veteran horror Deathdream on the cultier end of the spectrum to the bestselling paperback Pet Sematary, Stephen King's bleak homage to a very bleak little tale, and versions more or less drawn from the page are still made every so often, especially since the original is in the public domain.

Here was one from the British B-movie specialists Butchers who churned out seemingly hundreds of hour-long supporting features on tiny budgets, and found a very decent market in doing so. Few of their output could be described as anything close to classic status, and so it was with this, though that was not to say there was no worth in it as director Norman Lee, hitherto a specialist in mild comedy, demonstrated an unexpectedly sure hand at the fright sequences, especially in light of the "will this do?" air of everything leading up to them. The source, in spite of its killer plot, wasn't exactly a massive tome, which has left adapters down the years the issue of how to pad it out, and by setting it in the countryside the filmmakers opted to give us local colour and plenty of it.

It wasn't quite oo-ar down on the faaarm territory, so what we had instead was the simple folk with a modern (for 1948) twist, thus dad Mr Trelawne (Milton Rosmer) is up to his eyes in gambling debts and son Tom (Eric Micklewood) doesn't work at a factory or in any industrial accident-threatening occupation, but has his heart set on the then exciting new sport of speedway, and plans on raising cash to purchase his own bike with which to race. He has a fiancée (Brenda Hogan) who dotes on him but is growing impatient for a wedding ring, and mother Megs Jenkins huffs and puffs her way through the domestic dramas which arise, and they seem to do so with far too much detail for at least the first two-thirds of the film, plainly marking time until they can reach the denouement.

The dealer shows up one night, spooking the comic relief Irishman Kelly (Michael Martin Harvey) who is there to intone dire warnings about messing with forces we do not understand, or at least look afraid when someone does, and one thing leads to another, resulting in a painting exchanged for the paw. With the debts weighing heavily on him, Pa Trelawne wishes for two hundred quid (OK, it was a lot of money in those days) and gets what he requested in the most terrible manner possible. Vintage sport fans will be pleased to see actual speedway footage of the time was used for the sequence where Tom underwhelmingly falls from his bike, while vintage chiller fans will be admiring the way with shadow director Lee brings to the parts where tragedy strikes and the dreadful consequences of not being careful what you wish for are realised. This remained nevertheless a creaky diversion with stagey acting and an obvious lack of funds to open it out, yet the strength of Jacobs' yarn was such that it showed through even the most impoverished of tellings. Music by Stanley Black.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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