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31 More Days of American Horrror – The Uninvited (1944)

If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.

So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American  Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!


 

Director: Lewis Allen
Starring:  Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gail Russell


The haunted house film had been a staple of horror since pretty much day one, but bizarrely, it wasn’t until 1944 and The Uninvited when the ghosts finally were revealed not be be some kind of hoax, illusion or prank, but actual supernatural entities.

Not only that, but the Uninvited is a film that predates subtle paranormal classics like The Haunting, Night Of The Eagle and The Haunting Of Hill House by years, but more than holds its own in terms of atmosphere, drama and a creeping sense of dread.

Wandering alongside some cliffs while on holiday in Cornwall, London music critic and composer Rick Fitzgerald and his sister Pamela fall in love with Windward House, a large, beautiful but abandoned seaside home.

After purchasing it for a suspiciously low price from current owner Commander Beech, they come across his granddaughter Stella Meredith, who is deeply upset at losing what was her family home until she was three years old and her mother died falling from the nearby cliff.

Rick and Pamela begin to hear voices on the house, like a woman sobbing hysterically, while sudden bursts of cold and wind pick up from nowhere. Stella becomes a history and strikes up a burgeoning romance with Rick, but appears to be possessed and tried to throw herself off the cliff. The house is clearly haunted, not by one ghost, but by two, one warm and caring and the other cold and malevolent.

Is the spirit of Stella’sfather’s mistress Carmel trying to destroy her? Is her mother’s own spirit there to protect her? Or is there buried secrets that suggest a much more compacted situation?

Oh, I really loved this. Right from the off you’re pulled in with the easy charisma and natural rapport between Miland and Hussey, who make for a delightful sibling pair, gently teasing each other but clearly very close, while the old house makes an instant impact. It’s not an Old Dark House, it’s a bloody lovely big pile that just so happens to be empty. You can see why they want it and stops you doing the usual response or eye rolling when people fall in love with a house which couldn’t be more clearly haunted if it had a sign outside saying “This place is haunted.”

That makes it all the more chilling when the supernatural shenanigans start to kick in. The voice of the crying woman in the dark is genuinely chilling, while director Lewis Allen’s clever use of lighting (or rather the lack of it) means long periods are illuminated only in the centre of the screen, a single candle flickering impotently as all around it could be holding all manager of dangers.

As the frustrated musician and critic Rick, Ray Miland has an easy charm, not quite a square-jawed hero, but strong and intelligent, while his relationship with Stella grows organically and has a certain, sweet chaste feel to it in the early stages at least. It helps he’s playing against Gail Russell as the young love interest.

There’s something marvellously beguiling about Stella, equal parts innocenT and mysterious, very much a young woman but with a childlike quality to her that makes you want to trust her and genuinely feel empathy for her situation.

Okay, it won’t have you sleeping with the light on like one of the others films I’ve mentioned, but The Uninvited is pretty disturbing in its own right. Very much in the vein that would make Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur legends in the genre, this is a film of atmosphere and imagination filling the gaps that overt horror would be taking up in anyone else’s film and it’s all the stronger for it.

A classic that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Rating: 4.5/5.



JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy


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