A brother and sister move into an old seaside house they find abandoned for many years on the English coast. Their original enchantment with the house diminishes as they hear stories of the previous owners and meet their daughter (now a young woman) who now lives as a neighbor with her grandfather. Also heard are unexplained sounds during the night. It becomes obvious that the house is haunted.
That's not because there are more ghosts here than other places, mind you. It's just that people who live here about are strangely aware of them. The Uninvited is directed by Lewis Allen and adapted to screenplay by Frank Partos and Dodie Smith from the novel Uneasy Freehold written by Dorothy Macardle. It stars Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp and Cornelia Otis Skinner. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by Charles B. Lang. "They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here... and sea fog... and eerie stories..." Wonderful old fashioned ghost story that neatly blends romance and a light comedic tone into the pot, The Uninvited is very much a movie of significance. It marks a point in cinematic time when the ghost story proved it could be played for true unnerving impact. It remains a sub-genre of horror that is sorely lacking in bona fide classics, spookers that have longevity, the ability to raise the goose flesh no matter how many times they are revisited. With a new special edition DVD recently released, and the likes of Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro championing its cause by putting it on their lists of favourite frighteners, The Uninvited is proving its worth as an old sub-genre classic. Plot is pretty conventional stuff. It's 1937 and Milland and Hussey play a brother and sister who fall in love with a cliff side house they stumble upon whilst holidaying on the southwest coast of England. Sure enough they snag themselves the house at a ridiculously cheap price, this even though they are warned of some previous disturbances at the address. Cue a mysteriously locked room that when opened reveals itself to be deathly cold, pets that will not go up the stairs and then comes the hauntings... So far so formulaic, then, but as the story begins to unravel in the second half of the movie, where the light touch is left behind, a fizzer of back story comes to the fore and one or two extra surprises leap out of the narrative. This is not lazy plotting, it is well constructed, the mystery element is strong and sidles up nicely with the spooky goings on. "If you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened. You come by strange instincts. You get to recognise a peculiar cold that is the first warning. A cold which is no mere matter of degrees Farenheit, but a draining of warmth from the vital centres of the living." This is a spooker that, unsurprisingly for the time, is devoid of visceral shocks and blunderbuss like scares. This is more about atmosphere (Lang was Oscar nominated for his noirish photography) and fear of the unknown, where the sound of a sobbing woman in the darkness chills the blood. Perhaps surprisingly for the time? We do get to see spectral images, and they still work and create the desired effect, who needs a computer generated image spitting blood when you can have ethereal spookiness floating eerily above the ground? While we are at it, who needs a beefed up pretty boy actor fighting the good fight against evil when you can have an elegant Ray Milland doing it with a glint in his eye instead? The cast are very effective, with Russell really making a mark so early in her career, while Young's score is both sinister and tender (the song Stella by Starlight would become a popular standard) at all the right times. A genuine ghost story for those who prefer the sparing atmospheric touch to the noisy carnage approach. 8/10