THE UNINVITED. (1944) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘UNEASY FREEHOLD’ BY DOROTHY MACARDLE. DIRECTED BY LEWIS ALLEN. SCORE BY VICTOR YOUNG.
STARRING RAY MILLAND, RUTH HUSSEY, GAIL RUSSELL, DONALD CRISP, ALAN NAPIER, CORNELIA OTIS SKINNER, DOROTHY STICKNEY AND BARBARA EVEREST.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I read the book that inspired this film in February of this year, and it was the best horror book I’d read in ages, if not ever. It scared the bejeesus out of me. I was half-afraid to keep going and yet for a million quid I couldn’t have stopped. It scared me as much as Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and that’s saying something.
The film of THE UNINVITED is a beautifully atmospheric gothic haunted house film, and the two lead parts are well acted by Ruth Hussey and the marvellous Ray Milland (THE PREMATURE BURIAL, DIAL M FOR MURDER, THE LOST WEEKEND).
It’s an important film historically because it’s the first one to portray ghosts as credible and legitimate entities, rather than just comedy spooks played for laughs. Having said that, the film is nowhere near as scary as the book, which was disappointing for me. It’s still a bloody good film though, and lovely to look at. Here’s the lowdown anyway.
It’s the late ‘Thirties, for a kick-off. Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald are two London siblings with Irish roots. They are holidaying together in Cornwall with their little terrier Bobby when they accidentally happen across a gorgeous old empty house on the edge of a cliff. They fall in love with it instantly and decide to buy it.
Pamela, a sensible girl with a tendency towards bossiness, is the driving force behind the siblings deciding to pool their savings and bury themselves in the country. Pam has decided that it’s the perfect place for music critic Roderick to pen the kind of music he’s always wanted to write, instead of just reviewing other peoples’ work. Ahem…!
This is a change from the book, in which he’s a journalist on a newspaper who’s trying to write a book on the side, a dreary old tome that gives him no joy and which, during the course of the novel, he gleefully throws over for a play.
I personally prefer Roderick as a writer rather than a musician. As a writer myself, I love reading books and watching movies about people who want to write things but are having trouble with it. Heh-heh-heh. I just like knowing that success doesn’t always tumble easily into other writers’ laps either…!
Anyway, Rodders and Pamela buy the house, Windward, at a knockdown price from a local toff who resides in the town of Biddlecombe. He’s a retired gent called Commander Beech, who admits as they’re hammering out a price that previous tenants of the house have experienced what he delicately terms ‘disturbances’ while living there. Well…!
Roderick and Pamela aren’t the least put off by this news. In fact, Pamela is positively aglow with excitement while the cynical Roderick just laughs it off. There’s no such thing as ghosts, right?
The Commander’s sheltered little grand-daughter Stella is the only person who doesn’t want the house sold, as it’s the house where she lived for the first three years of her life with her parents, who are now both dead.
But the Commander seems to want shut of the house, with the proceeds of the sale going straight into a bank account for Stella. The sale goes through. Pam and Rodders move in to the enchanting old house on the cliff, along with Bobby the terrier- leave that squirrel alone, Bobby, you little fecker, you!- and their painfully ‘Oirish’ cook, Lizzie. Ah shure, begob and begorrah and shure all you can do is pull the divil by the tail and all the rest of it.
Of course, the siblings gradually discover that the Commander’s reluctant words of warning about ‘disturbances’ may not be a load of old hogwash after all. One of the rooms in the house, the room in which Stella’s artist father did his painting, is cold and unwelcoming and imbues anyone who enters it with a terrible feeling of depression and hopelessness. I feel the same when I walk into my bedroom and see the masses of wrinkled clothes piled up there awaiting ironing, lol.
The sound of a woman bawling her eyes out with unhappiness wakes both Pam and Rodders in the night, but there’s no unhappy woman to be found anywhere on the premises. Lizzie’s cat refuses point-blank to climb the staircase in the eerie, candle-lit house- no electricity, can you imagine that?- and Lizzie herself swears she saw someone on the landing who definitely didn’t belong there.
Strangest of all is the effect the house has on Stella, the Commander’s beautiful young grand-daughter who, by now, has captured the much older Roderick’s heart completely and utterly. The age difference doesn’t seem to bother anyone, so who are we to judge them, some eighty-odd years later? It’s none of our business, I say. Leave ’em alone.
The Commander, largely unaware of the growing attraction between his grand-daughter and Roderick Fitzgerald, doesn’t want Stella going to the house on the cliff for other reasons, reasons that have nothing to do with a possible romance with Rodders Fitzgerald. It’s the house he’s worried about, and he’s right to be worried.
The house seems to be simultaneously both a dangerous place for Stella to be, a place of violence and terror and malignant forces who want to do her harm, and also a place of peace and happiness where she’s convinced the loving spirit of her mother still lingers.
But Stella’s mother, of whom Stella’s childhood memories are all happy, warm safe joyous ones, would hardly wish to do her daughter harm, would she? In that case, then, who is the malicious influence lurking in the shadows at Windward who wants to see Stella throw herself off the cliff and dash her brains out on the jagged rocks below?
Could it possibly be that two spirits haunt the mysterious, isolated house on the cliff, one the benevolent ghost of Stella’s loving mother and the other…? Who exactly is the other, and what is he or she so pissed off about that only the taking of Stella’s young, barely-begun life will pacify them?
That’s what Rodders and Pamela have to hurry to find out, with the help of the nice Dr. Scott from the neighbourhood (Rodders and Stella aren’t the only two players in this little drama who feel the sting of Cupid’s arrows; watch where you’re aiming that thing, you tubby little cherub, you!) and a very unpleasant and maybe even slightly demented woman from Stella’s past called Miss Holloway. Let’s just hope the siblings are in time…
The ghostly manifestations in the book are terrifying. The light coming from the darkened nursery late at night, the murmurs, the crying, the sickening, ghastly cold that actually drains a person of their physical strength and will to carry on and the figure materialising out of the mist, it’s all the stuff of nightmares and, trust me, I had a fair few after reading THE UNINVITED.
The movie doesn’t quite manage to convey the same sense of dread and horror, but it’s still a gorgeous film which I would have been perfectly happy with if I hadn’t first read the book, lol. The lesson here is obviously this. Never read books…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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