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...That's not because there are most ghosts here then other places, mind you. It's just that people who live here about are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There's life and death in that restless sound. And eternity too.
Horror movies are blessed by the fact that they can be set in any location. Underground, in the ocean, in Antarctica, or even in deep space, the genre lends itself readily to most locales. But one setting is more terrifying than any other by its very purpose. The house. Most people have a place they call home, a place to feel safe at night, somewhere to keep the dark at bay. But what happens when someone's safest place turns against them? What does that do to the mind? After all, if a person isn't safe at home, can they be safe anywhere?
Hollywood has capitalized on the haunted house theme to great effect. The early psychological terror of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, or the groundbreaking special effects of Poltergeist, and even the claustrophobic inescapability of Alien, Hollywood has successfully turned the places we live and sleep and trust into something to be feared again and again. Yet one movie is almost single-handedly responsible for generating this decades-long lineage of great haunted house movies. Released in 1944 and based on the Dorothy Macardle novel Uneasy Freehold, The Uninvited paved the way for the ghosts in the attic to be much more than just Abbott and Costello sheets.
Ray Milland Roderick Fitzgerald (with Pam, new owner of Windward House)
Ruth Hussey Pamela Fitzgerald (with Rick, new owner of Windward House)
Donald Crisp Commander Beech (protective grandfather of Stella)
Gail Russell Stella Meredith (daughter of Windward House's previous owners)
Cornelia Otis Skinner Miss Holloway (Stella's childhood nurse)
Alan Napier Dr. Scott (village medic of the Beeches)
The Uninvited takes place along the coast of western England in Biddlecombe, a small Cornwall village. While vacationing, siblings Rick and Pam Fitzgerald find a large seaside estate named Windward House that they promptly purchase from its absentee owner, Commander Beech, at great discount. Shortly after moving in, however, they begin to hear strange crying at night. Soon the supernatural occurrences extend to extreme drops in temperature in certain rooms, candles blowing out, pets running away, and servants refusing to stay the night. Having spent their savings to purchase the house, the Fitzgeralds are forced to remain. In the meantime, Rick befriends Stella, the granddaughter of Commander Beech, but is disappointed to find that the Commander has forbidden her from visiting at Windward House. Stella, displaying a defiance unheard of for her station, visits Windward House to dine with Rick and Pam but this recalls long forgotten memories of her childhood in the house. Overcome by supernatural force, Stella races to the cliff face but is saved by Rick before falling over the edge.
The Fitzgeralds begin piecing together the history of the house and learn that Stella's parents endured a tense marriage. Stella's father, an artist, maintained an open affair with his model, a Spanish gypsy named Carmel. Stella's mother Mary consoled herself and her close friendship with Miss Holloway. Tragedy struck the family when Mary was pushed over the cliff by Carmel, who died from pneumonia in the week after, all witnessed by Miss Holloway. Holloway later opened a mental asylum and it is here that Commander Beech places Stella after her continued defiance at Windward House, where she participates in a seance with Dr. Scott and the Fitzgeralds in an attempt to contact her mother's spirit.
Further investigation by the Fitzgeralds, now aided by Dr. Scott, reveals that Miss Holloway may have been responsible for Carmel's death. Confronting the uncanny nurse, she gleefully informs the would be rescuers that she has sent Stella back to Windward House. In a surprise to the trio, Stella is revealed to be the daughter of Carmel, not Mary, and Mary perished on the cliff while trying to throw an infant Stella over. Only Carmel's intervention then, much like Rick's later, prevented Mary from obtaining her vengeance on the product of her husband's affair. Racing back to Windward House, the three arrive just in time to once again stop a supernatural force driving Stella over the cliff. Revealing everything to the frightened girl, the group is assaulted by Mary's spirit, but confronted by a candelabra-waving Rick, she is rendered powerless by his new knowledge. Now able to live peacefully in the house, Rick and Stella begin their future together.
About The Movie
The Uninvited proved a major success. Utilizing creative camera work and special effects to portray the moody atmosphere and supernatural scenes, it earned Charles Lang a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. As the first Hollywood movie to portray a house haunted by an actual ghost (as opposed to criminals or pranksters merely using a contrived ghost to cover other activities), The Uninvited paved the way for one of the foundations of the horror genre. Each October in the United States, it is shown by a variety of horror-themed programs, including Turner Classic Movies and Svengoolie. Numerous horror-related professionals have cited it as one of their primary inspirations for getting into the genre. Guillermo del Toro lists it among his six favorite horror movies, and as one of the curators of the Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film exhibit, placed it on the exhibit's list of 100 important horror movies from 1920 through 2008.
Some Notes About The Cast And Crew:
Sadly, Gail Russell, the actress who played Stella in The Uninvited, died at the age of 36 from complications related to alcoholism. Chronically suffering from self-doubt in her acting ability, Russell purportedly began drinking on The Uninvited to ease her stage fright. Donald Crisp, the smothering Commander Beech, later became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and orchestrated numerous financings between major studios and the Bank of America. Crisp's long career included much work in the silent film industry (playing Ulysses S. Grant in The Birth of a Nation) to winning his own Academy Award a few years before The Uninvited.
The Uninvited is a must-see movie for dedicated fans of the horror genre, and a fun ghost story for anyone else. While not the shriek fest of more modern offerings, it successfully paints a tale of suspense with subtle undertones, such as the unspoken lesbian relationship between Mary and Miss Holloway. Anyone who enjoys a good haunted house story should enjoy The Uninvited.