Retro Review: ‘The Uninvited’
Imagine finding a large old spooky house on a beautiful plot of land. You are lucky enough to find out it is not only for sale but the owner is willing to give you a steep discount, despite the anxious vibes their granddaughter is giving off about the house. If none of this would set off alarm bells, you have just put yourself in the shoes of the two main characters of 1944’s the Uninvited. Produced during the Golden Age of horror films, this movie set itself apart from the other scary films of the era, by being among the first to not feature a vampire or mummy or some other monster. Instead the Uninvited was a great creepy ghost story.
While on holiday siblings, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald discover a house they instantly fall in love with. When they discover the home’s owner, the aloof Commander Beech, is willing to sell it for an incredibly reasonable price, though he does close the deal with a warning of the strange events which have been reported. It seems, however, as if Beech;s granddaughter, Stella who once lived their before the death of her mother is anxious about the home going into the hands of another. It is only a matter of time before, Roderick and Pamela discover they now share their home with a supernatural being with ties to Stella’s past. Together the siblings and Stella investigate the creepy happenings in the house in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what is happening.
The scares of the Uninvited may not offer a lot that modern audiences have not seen before, but the execution of which is was pulled off ensures it still makes an impact. Director Lewis Allen crafts a beautifully gothic and atmospheric look to the film and the special fx will still make audiences ponder “how did they do that?”. The film’s famous seance scene where our characters huddle around a Ouija board proves to be the perfect showcase as to why this movie works. As our characters try to contact the spirit haunting the house believed to be the spirit of Stella’s mother, a truly eerie scene which culminates with an apparition forming before them. This was the first full length feature in the director’s chair, but Allen handled it like a pro. You can see the influences of early Hitchcock and Val Lewton in this movie, but the filmmaker still puts his own spin on it. Of course none of this would matter if we did not care what was happening, but thanks to an expertly written script and likable characters we as the audience are completely on board with what is unfolding. Unlike previous films of this style, there is no “logical” explanation or caper to unravel, their is a legitimate spirit haunting this home and the storyline plays it absolutely straight. Along the way their are a nice series of twists to keep you guessing.
In what is credited as her first major film role Gail Russell oozes of star power. True she is not the lead, but she steals every scene she is in with her performance. She is so damned charming that the audience can not help but be sucked in as they worry about her fate in these macabre proceedings. This is not to dump on the two leads, Ray Miland and Ruth Hussey as the Fitzgerald siblings. Hussey in particular, was still on a career high from her Oscar nominated performance in the Philadelphia Story and turned in just as good a performance in this horror flick.
The Uninvited has become a true classic for horror fans, not only for it’s pioneering role in forging the cinematic ghost story, but to this day it still holds up as a genuinely creepy movie. The feel is very much that of being in the film version of a spooky funhouse and I mean that in the best possible way. Their is a fun eeriness looming throughout the movie which keeps you excited about what can happen next. All together the Uninvited is a high point during this period of the horror genre.