The Uninvited begins simply: Siblings Rick and Pamela (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) come upon a lovely oceanfront house on their vacation and buy it to escape the demands of London life. It even has a charming name, Windward, and a quaint touch: no electricity. Of course, things go awry from there, slowly but surely: a dog that won’t climb the stairs, strange weeping sounds, a room that depresses anyone who enters. This film is an eerie, perfect choice for Halloween, not just because of its pleasures as a ghost story, but because it has these three added delights:
1. Candy—the Visual Kind
You spend most of the film gazing at these attractive siblings:
One would think that pleasure would be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, but this is Halloween, and it’s all about gorging. No worries. The Uninvited delivers: just wait till this knockout fills the screen:
The beauty, Stella (Gail Russell), is the granddaughter of the owner; she disapproves of the home purchase since she believes her mother, who died in a cliff fall, haunts it. But she warms to the couple, especially to Rick, who quickly sets about flirting with her. (Who wouldn’t?)
2. Genuinely Likeable Characters
Most scary stories feature interchangeable victims. If we know their names—Sarah, Dan, Rob, Susan—we don’t know them for long, and the characters quickly become The Screaming Guy or The Girl Pushed Down the Stairs or the Cheerleader Covered in Blood. While we may not wish them ill, we certainly don’t know them well enough to worry when Casper turns out to be a not-so-friendly ghost.
Rick and Pamela, in contrast to these stick-figure characters, are laid back, witty, fun. They are a gutsy pair, unlikely to fall prey to fears or believe in haunted happenings. After being told former tenants complained of “disturbances,” Rick quips, “What was the trouble…Ladies carrying their heads under their arms?”
The two like to tease each other, like most siblings. To convince her brother they should take the house, Pamela points out that if they live there instead of the city, he could work on his composing. He protests, of course, “My poor lunatic sister. I happen to have a job.” She replies in equally supportive sibling fashion: “Yes, and what a job. Going to concerts and telling your readers how bad the music was….Chuck it…It isn’t as if you’re even a good music critic.”
3. A Human Conspirator: A Haunted House with an Ally?
It’s clear the ghostly house has it in for Stella, and much of the film portrays the siblings’ efforts to discover the story behind the hauntings, the reason for all the eerie sounds, dying flowers, dog phobias, temperature shifts, and occasional apparitions (the special effects are surprisingly good). Once they understand the story, the siblings believe they can save the girl from the increasingly hostile house—and, of course, make it a bit more hospitable for themselves. (After all, it’s putting a great dent in their parties, making it highly unlikely they’ll be the popular pair they were back home.)
Soon the siblings suspect there may be a live human abetting the house’s murderous impulses, and among all the shifty possibilities, the person who begins to emerge as the frontrunner seems disturbingly sane—except for his/her desire to help the house kill Stella, of course.
If you’re not yet convinced by my reasons, read the excellent review that led me to buy the film in the first place. The author, the blogger Self-Styled Siren, even draws a cool parallel between the film’s apparitions and the terrifying ones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What could be a better recommendation?