The Uninvited is a solid entry into the haunted house film subgenre. It’s less scary than spooky, but the moody atmosphere and psychological mystery at its center make it a great Halloween watch. I caught it on TCM this weekend, and I’m glad I did. It reminded me of Hitchcock’s classic Rebecca, for several reasons, but I would actually say that this film is more gorgeously shot.
Though it’s an American film, the plot revolves around a brother and sister who move from London to the English seaside when they fall in love with a big old house. Stella, the granddaughter of the house’s owner, initially tries to keep them from buying it, but they move in and befriend her. Strange things start happening at the house, and Stella gets caught in the center of a battle between supernatural forces and her family and new friends.
According to Wikipedia,
The Uninvited was among the very first Hollywood feature films to portray a haunting as an authentic supernatural event. Previously, ghosts were often played for comedy (The Ghost Goes West, 1936; Topper, 1937) or revealed to be practical jokes (Blondie Has Servant Trouble, 1940) or subterfuge to obscure an illegal activity (The Cat and the Canary, 1939; Abbott and Costello’s Hold That Ghost, 1941).
The old house, filled with disembodied crying sounds, phantom perfume, and a wealth of untold family secrets, makes this one of the more truly Gothic films to come out of Hollywood. It has a great deal in common with British Gothic novels like Wuthering Heights, perhaps because the film is based on Dorothy Macardle’s 1942 book, Uneasy Freehold.
The film was quite popular, and was nominated for ab Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography. Its score also spawned a hit jazz song, “Stella by Starlight.”