Synopsis: A pair of siblings from London (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) purchase a surprisingly affordable, lonely cliff-top house in Cornwall, only to discover that it actually carries a ghostly price—and soon they’re caught up in a bizarre romantic triangle from beyond the grave. Rich in atmosphere, The Uninvited, directed by Lewis Allen, was groundbreaking for the seriousness with which it treated the haunted-house genre, and it remains an elegant and eerie experience, featuring a classic score by Victor Young. A tragic family past, a mysteriously locked room, cold chills, bumps in the night—this gothic Hollywood classic has it all.
The Uninvited (1944) 7.75
eyelights: the atmosphere. the gorgeous black and white cinematography. the setting. the special effects.
eyesores: the performances. the Hollywood ending.
“They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here… and sea fog… and eerie stories…”
‘The Uninvited’ is a 1944 motion picture based on the novel ‘Uneasy Freehold’, by Dorothy Macardle. It tells the story of a pair of siblings who buy a cliff side house together only to find out that it has a dark history. Soon after moving in, they begin to experience all sorts of supernatural encounters, the most chilling of which being the late night sobbings of a woman. Thus begins their investigation of what took place at Winward House so many years ago.
Soon thereafter they meet the granddaughter of the man who sold them the house. The brother is attracted to her, so he pursues her, and he and his sister develop a friendship with her despite the grandfather’s protests – and attempts at keeping them apart. Soon we realize that what is going on in Winward house is rooted in the girl’s family history and that the grandfather was selling the house to be rid of some unpleasant memories.
‘The Uninvited’ is a motion picture classic and it has the enviable reputation of being one of the first Hollywood ghost stories to take itself seriously: up until then, all of them strictly made use of such supernatural occurrences for comic relief, not for spooky chills. It’s a groundbreaking picture and it remains widely respected to this day (in fact, no less than Guillermo Del Toro claims it to be one of his six favourite fright flicks).
I actually bought the blu-ray without having any sense of what the picture was about: released by the Criterion Collection, I knew that it would at the very least be of moderate quality. So I blind-bought it (partly because I got a ridiculous price on it, naturally). And I must say that I am relatively impressed with how good it is given its age: it’s atmospheric, gorgeous to look at, and the scares are all executed quite well for its time.
I was particularly impressed with its production quality. This is a really nice-looking picture: the house looks fantastic, and its seaside setting is breathtaking. But even the few special effects looked amazing here: given that it was made in 1943, I never expected the ghostly apparitions to look so perfectly ethereal, so convincing. The fact that it came together as good as it did is quite impressive seeing as it’s Lewis Allen’s directorial debut.
Unfortunately, the cast wasn’t nearly as impressive. They’re not bad at all: in fact, they’re very much par for the course for the period. But the era’s acting style strips the film of a much-needed realism, leaving the audience aware that it’s watching a movie and not fully immersing itself. Of particular note, however, is Gail Russell as Stella, the grand-daughter: she had a freshness and liveliness that made her effortless to watch.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The one weak point in the picture is its ending, which has all sorts of sudden plot twists clamber over each other in a quest to build momentum and tension. It was all very absurd and unnecessary, leaving the filmmakers with no interest in wrapping up the movie properly, instead negligently dispatching Mary’s ghost by having our male protagonist merely tell her that she is not wanted there anymore.
Um… to which the ghost reacts by just leaving.
Really? As simple as that? This ghost had been haunting Winward House for two decades and all you needed to say was “go away”?
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
But, otherwise, ‘The Uninvited’ is a strong entry in the ghost story genre; for its time and ilk it’s truly a very good motion picture. These haunted house stories are frequently interchangeable, given that they use limited locations and only so many plot points, but this one stands out because of its overall quality. It’s not the most memorable ghost story one will ever see, but it’s an effortlessly entertaining one that has plenty of replay value.
Date of viewing: September 19, 2014