The Uninvited is a very early entry into the old-dark-house-style movie. It’s a classic ghost story and haunted house flick. Jack picked this movie as the one he’d seen that he was sure the other two dopes hadn’t. Things have changed a lot in the horror world since the forties, and this movie is no exception, but is it worth watching today? Read on to find out, but beware of spoilers, as those abound.
Reviewed by: Jack
Siblings Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald inadvertently tour a coastal mansion in England as they follow their dog who has chased a squirrel through an open window. Naturally, the house is for sale, and they decide to buy it together, because grown siblings buying a seaside mansion to live in together is just something that happened back then.
The Fitzgerald’s buy the house, Windward, as it’s known, from some old jerk, but not before his daughter falls for Roderick. Alas, all is not quite as it seems with Windward, as weird things start to happen, beginning with the dog refusing to go upstairs. There’s also some cold spots and ghostly crying. You know, ghost stuff.
Turns out the house is haunted by two ghosts. There’s the former owner’s dead wife, and also his gypsy mistress. While we’re initially led to believe that the mistress ghost is the evil one, we learn through some psychiatrist exposition that she’s actually Stella’s real mother, and was killed to keep the secret. As soon as Stella realizes that, the mistress ghost is happy and dissipates, but there’s still the dastardly dead wife apparition.
Luckilly, Roderick’s got a plan for that ghost. He tells her that she’s not scary and she leaves. Then our heroes stand in the doorway and make mother-in-law jokes for a while like it’s a damn episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s an abrupt ending.
What the Movie Does Right
This is an astonishingly beautiful movie. The coast where they shot is gorgeous in and of itself, but they had an understanding of lighting that really elevates the whole thing. Scenes of almost complete darkness with just the main character’s face illuminated by candle light really exemplify this. There’s also a great scene where there’s one entire wall that’s a window, and the natural light fades making the shot darker as evidence of the haunting starts to build.
That goes right along with the score. The composition of the music in the movie is amazing. There’s even an original song written for the movie that is fucking awesome and slightly recognizable today. That song is Stella By Starlight if you’re curious, and has been covered a lot, including by Miles Davis.
The acting is pretty solid all around as well. For how old this is, the characters have a modern and relatable feel to them. There’s some great humor in the movie. Not everything translates, and the only person with any real depth of character is Roderick, but it’s way better than I was expecting.
What the Movie Does Wrong
The movie could have used another round of editing. For a movie about a haunted house, the actual haunting scenes are few and far between. The side stories on which the movie embarks makes the distance between hauntings seem even fucking farther.
Also, while definitely better in this movie than most of its era, it’s undeniably hard to get into movies of this vintage. Everything is just so different now that it’s hard to get sucked in. And this differential hits horror movies harder than others because of their reliance on you being sucked into the experience.
Story: 6 - The story here is combination of classic haunted house and old-timey mystery. It does it all fairly well, and definitely gets points for being what might be the first haunted house flick, but it doesn’t do any of it perfectly. It’s above average, but unremarkable.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - This is getting a big bump from me. I mentioned above that it’s hard to get into movies of this era, and that’s true. I just happen to have a romantic soft spot for this particular era of wearing suits with hats and driving around the countryside wistfully. Would I prefer it to have been on a train? Sure, but that’s why I gave it a 6.
Scare-Factor: 4 - This isn’t a scary movie by modern standards. It does however do a good job of building the haunting, and with it a sense of foreboding and dread. I actually found the scenes which directly show the ghost to be effective, but no so effective that you ever really get legitimately scared.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - This one is right down the middle. It gets points for the ghosts, seance, and crumbling cliff scenes, but it really doesn’t do all that much.
Overall: 6 - This is a fun watch, and is a great entry-point into the genre for kids or others who claim they’re too scared for horror movies. The 1940’s had different sensibilities, and I don’t think modern viewers would lose too much sleep after watching this, no matter how susceptible they claim to be.