Director: Lewis Allen
Stars: Ray Milland/Ruth Hussey
Year Made: 1944
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Spoilers are not silent, Even in Death
One of the oldest types of horror stories is the story of the haunted house. Even if you go back centuries, stories of old houses and restless spirits will still be there. When it comes to movies there have been dozens made about spooky houses, but 1944’s “The Uninvited” is seen as one of the greatest ever made. The plot setup is simple but effective. A pair of English siblings Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) are vacationing on the coast of Cornwall when they happen across a huge country house. They instantly fall in love with every room in the house except for an upstairs room that always seems cold and unpleasant. They decide to ask Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) the houses owner if it’s for sale and he offers it to them at an extremely low price, which they eagerly accept, at first things seem happy and peaceful with Rick even romancing the Beeches young granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell). However, once the two siblings are settled in, the Fitzgerald siblings begin to notice eerie sounds and strange smells that come from nowhere. It soon becomes clear that the two are not alone in the house and their uninvited guest has a particular interest in Stella.
I’ve never been a fan of ghosts as an antagonist. While there are many great movies revolving around ghosts or curses I’ve always preferred an antagonist that actually exists physically. Ghosts have a tendency to rob characters of their agency. While a physical threat (hopefully) has characters trying to avoid it or eliminate it, characters confronted with a ghost or other spiritual threat, seem content to wait around and let it come to them. Haunted house movies have even more problems than the regular supernatural horror film because the way to stop the haunting is simple just leave the freaking house. With all my prejudices against ghosts in mind, believe me when I say that “The Uninvited” was a surprisingly great film.
“The Uninvited” salvages a fairly predictable set up with strong characters and some clever twists at the end. While the plot was good, what really won me over was the how it was shot .Now I don’t know what it is about movies shot in the nineteen forties, but they all seems to look incredibly beautiful. This is especially surprising for me, who has always preferred color to black and white, but “The Uninvited” is gorgeous. Every scene perfectly conveys the mood and when things get supernatural, it looks like the cast has stepped into another world. While all the cast is good, the standout is definitely Gail Russell’s, Stella. When she wasn’t the victim of supernatural mischief she was a fun and likable small town girl and when the spooky stuff started she defiantly convinced me that something otherworldly was affecting her. On a side note, this film had an Ouija board scene before Ouija boards were even invented. I cannot stress this enough, a horror film lives and dies by the mood it instills and while “The Uninvited” never got all the way to terrifying, this was for the best, as it seemed reasonable that the Fitzgerald’s wouldn’t want to leave. Still “The Uninvited” was very creepy and very memorable
Sadly “The Uninvited” didn’t completely escape the flaws of a haunted house movie. While the characters were more proactive than usual, the movie did take a little time to get started. While there were no pointless scenes of the characters walking around only to run into jump scares, there was a romantic subplot. While the romance between Stella and Ricks did give Rick motivation not to leave the house, I couldn’t help but wonder if a reel from “Roman Holliday” had gotten accidentally spliced into this ghost movie. Something that was more strange than disappointing was Rick not showing much fear. Even when things got supernatural, Rick (almost) always kept his stereotypically British stiff upper lip. This might be due to it being the forties when it wasn’t appropriate to see the hero freak out and lose his cool. Despite all of this, “The Uninvited” was one of the best, haunted house movies I’ve ever seen, and as I don’t normally enjoy haunted houses of any kind you know that’s high praise.
Did I like the movie: Yes
Would I watch it again: Yes
Would I buy it: No
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