[This Halloween season, we're paying tribute to classic horror cinema by celebrating films released before 1970! Check back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic horror films, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Halloween 2019 special features!]
The Uninvited is a supernatural film from 1944. Though it has garnered praise both then and now for its stunning cinematography, marvelous cast and effects work used to bring the story’s ghost to the screen, it is a film that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, and would be very at home on anyone’s October viewing list.
Written by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos (based on a novel by Dorothy Macardle) and directed by Lewis Allen, the film follows siblings Rick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) on a seaside vacation where they happen upon an old abandoned house. They immediately fall in love with the property, and inquire about buying it. The owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), is more than happy to sell and offers the house at a very low price. His granddaughter, Stella (Gail Russell), is less than thrilled about the sale. The house had once belonged to her mother and was, in fact, the site of her untimely death.
Over the first week they spend in the house, they notice a number of strange occurrences: inexplicable chills and feelings of emptiness in certain rooms, the phantom smell of flowers, and the sound of an unseen woman crying through the night. When Stella visits the house, she feels the presence of the ghostly woman. Unafraid, she feels that the presence is that of her late mother and becomes increasingly obsessed with spending time in the house and being close to the spirit.
The group becomes progressively interested in determining what the ghost wants and why it stays in the house. They conduct a seance, which only leads to more questions. Why does the woman remain in the old house? What can be done to put her spirit to rest? As they dig deeper into the house’s history, they uncover details about Stella’s family that have been hidden for decades. Details that lead them to begin to understand the ghost’s true nature and intentions.
It’s a great film—light on scares, but heavy on atmosphere. The cinematography is stunning and the writing highlights the family story at the center of the house as much as it does the haunting itself. It many ways, it is equal parts mystery story and romance as it is a ghost story.
The film makes some bold choices when it comes to portraying the ghostly activity. The seance scene is creepy in its own right, and even incorporates an unexpected possession angle, but Paramount also insisted on bringing the ghostly entity itself onscreen. Allen had wanted to keep the ghosts offscreen and leave them to the audience’s imagination, but he was overruled, and the result, frankly, works. We see a ghost manifest as a beautiful, but distinct curling of smoke with a somewhat distinguishable face hovering in the shadows. It’s a great shot and a well-executed effect that does a great job at selling the supernatural element. Interestingly, The Uninvited is among the first films to include ghosts as real entities instead of as a joke or as some sort of red herring.
It's a great film to watch in October. The black and white photography is absolutely beautiful, and who doesn't love spending a couple of hours in an old haunted house every Halloween? The film definitely sports some creepy moments, but is light enough to share with the people in your life who might not be as into thrills and chills as you are. But what it lacks in overt frights, it makes up for in story and atmosphere. Without realizing it, our characters have walked into the middle of a mystery, and must solve it if they are to put the ghosts to rest and take their house back. The truth lies in the shadows and in the darkest corners of the house, and old wrongs must be put right before the spirits will depart for good.
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