The Uninvited is an old school spine tingler that plays your nerves like a finely tuned violin.
Uninvited is an old school spine tingler that plays your nerves like a finely
tuned violin. This classy, underplayed chiller is a favourite
of both Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro – and rightly
so. Like Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon, this is a film which manages
to conjure chills and a genuine sense of unease from the most innocuous
moments. Curtains blown by the breeze on a still, Summer’s day. The sudden scent
of mimosa. A deserted attic studio where flowers wither and die. Mist on the
stairway. Strange noises in the night. The sound of crying. Or perhaps it was
just the wind howling in the sea cliffs? This is ghost story in the very best
traditions of MR James and Walter de la Mare.
During a seaside break, brother and sister Rick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) fall in love with
Windward House, an abandoned mansion perched precariously on the edge of a sea
swept cliffside. After buying it for a surprisingly low price from the surly
Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), they
discover that this is a house with a history. Beech’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell) believes that the ghost
of her mother, who fell to her death from the cliffs seventeen years earlier,
haunts it. It soon transpires that this is only part of the story and whatever
– or whoever – inhabits Windward’s dark corners is fuelled by an icy rage
towards the young woman.
Allen had originally intended to leave the question of whether the house
was haunted or not for the audience to decide. However, Paramount instead on
inserting ghost effects at the movie’s climax. Tourneur had the same fight over
Night Of The Demon although, in this case, the studio’s meddling did little to
undermine the finished film. The ghost, when we do see it, is eerily effective
and more than holds up under the scrutiny of modern day high-def.
The Uninvited was one of the first Hollywood
movies to portray a haunting as a real event and it does so with great style.
In fact, it could be argued, that this is the film which set the template for
some of the greatest movie ghost stories of them all – films like The Haunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961). Much is left to
the imagination. There’s a slow burn which builds tension until the viewer can
almost smell that sickly scent of mimosa for themselves. The shocks are subtle and the chills
psychological. However, light comedic moments, and the altogether solidly
sensible attitude of Rick and Pamela to the disturbances around them, means
that when the shocks do come, they’re all the more effective. This is a real
grown up ghost story, so don’t expect in-your-face effects. Instead, turn out
the lights, sit back and enjoy. Just don’t look too closely at shadows. You
never know what might be lurking there.