October 11, 2011

The Uninvited (1944)

"A composer and his sister discover that the reason they are able to purchase a beautiful gothic seacoast mansion very cheaply is the house's unsavoury past."

I'm finally back to working on my "Hallowe'en Countdown" with another ghostie film which I'd never seen before. I'd never seen "The Uninvited" available as a DVD (not even a bootleg) or even a VHS tape and if it was ever shown on British TV then I simply must have missed it.

Luckily, TCM had a marathon of classic black and white horror movies on Monday night through to Tuesday morning and "The Uninvited" was one of them. Although it meant suffering through the irritatingly repeated poem of "The Wolf Man" (1941) beforehand, I missed most of that awful Universal dreck due to not knowing that TCM was on channel 63 on my cable box and having to surf for it.

Anyway, I finally got to see "The Uninvited" which a lot of horror movie review sites say was Hollywood's first attempt at a "serious ghost story". Well, it was and it wasn't especially since, aside from its Paramount Studios locations which are supposed to be Cornwall, it's very British. I'd call it more of a creepy romance with Ray Milland trying to be funny and failing than anything else.

There were quite a few bizarre relationships in "The Uninvited" which were actually a lot more interesting than the ghost story itself. Ray Milland's character and his sister immediately suggested incest to me (viewing it from a 21st century perspective), and I'm sure that he was supposed to be a middle-aged man who was trying to pick-up a naive girl half his age to boot. If this was purely artifice to allow the characters some romantic mobility then it was done badly.

The facts that the original owner of the house had been having an affair and his wife was certainly the object of a lesbian crush (if not more) stood out inarguably even if I may have been making more out of the other relationships than a 1940s audience would. Older men who live with their sisters while courting young girls wasn't quite so weird back then, I suppose.

You would think that even the laziest writer would still have mirrored the past with the present. For Ray Milland to not play a married man having an affair was a wasted opportunity which countless ghost stories since have reworked (right up to this year's "American Horror Story" on TV). Thus, for me, the story itself wasn't neat enough. It was a mess which meandered from one thing to another with far too much spoken exposition.

The reasons for the haunting were already predictable so the back stories became tedious rather than mysterious and the final "exorcism" of the ghosts turned out to be anticlimactic to say the least.

"The Uninvited" may have been an attempt at a serious ghost story but it wasn't a very good one. A lot of the formulas for future ghost stories, including getting a house for a lot less than its real value, animals being used to show that there is something very wrong there, and the "Cassandra truth" trope (and its reverse) being used ad nauseum, were laid down here so I have to give it credit for originality but that is all.

It wasn't a scary film. There was no real air of menace about the haunting and no tension. Although some of the effects were good for the time, unfortunately, Ray Milland completely ruined the atmosphere of the whole thing by being far too jocular and by mimicking the Irish housekeeper's accent at every opportunity.

I'm rating "The Uninvited" as just average. If you haven't ever seen it then you haven't missed anything important.

TCM are showing it again on Sunday, October 30th, at 9.15am.

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