| The Uninvited


Lewis Allen

USA, 1944


Review by Jenny Jediny

Posted on 29 October 2009

Source Universal VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror VI

There’s a scene in Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited where young Stella, the bright-eyed young thing at the crux of this ghost story, comments to beau Roderick Fitzgerald on a reckless car ride that being scared is, in fact, quite fun. This is completely analogous to the tone of this much-loved, and unavailable classic (one of the most demanded titles on TCM’s yet-to-be released on DVD list), a movie that gently reveals its spirits, and prefers buttoned-up chills to décolletage and spilled guts.

It’s difficult to watch The Uninvited and not think of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, released only four years earlier: here, Windward House replaces Manderley, a rotting mansion high on the Cornwall cliffs that captures the imagination of Pamela and Roderick Fitzgerald. Pamela and Roderick are not lovers, but siblings, thereby handing off any sexual tension to the lady specters haunting their new abode. Two ghosts haunt Windward, each vying for something from Stella Meredith, who spent the early years of her childhood at Windward prior to her mother’s violent death: one spirit clearly malignant, leaving rooms clammy and raw; the other warm and inviting, accompanied by the distinct, sweet smell of mimosa.

What’s morphed into gruesome household terror in films such as The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist, where “the uninvited” wreak hysteria and total panic, is treated with unusual level-headedness by the Fitzgeralds. Frightened but not necessarily threatened, Pamela and Roderick have a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy approach to their home invasion, determined to solve the mystery and protect Stella (whom Roderick’s grown quite fond of). True to the period in Hollywood history, this is where The Uninvited bridges horror and comedy, keeping the mood light with humorous asides and Roderick’s song compositions (he’s a struggling musician) while orchestrating atmospheric chills; bodiless crying in the night, a dimly lit séance with a homemade spirit board, doors and windows opening or closing without human intervention.

The subtext is where The Uninvited lends itself to a more modern take; returning to its allusions to Rebecca, a similar worship of a dead woman - former mistress of Windward and Stella’s mother, Mary Meredith - is prominent here. Stella, obsessively missing her mother and former home, gazes at Mary Meredith’s portrait in her bedroom, as does Miss Holloway, friend of the family and manager of the local asylum. Miss Holloway keeps the same dramatic portrait of Mary in her office, whispering reassuring asides to her “darling” that sound very similar to Mrs. Danvers’s possessive rants over the dead Rebecca. Holloway’s evident jealousy at Stella’s increasingly intense relationship to the spirits remaining in Windward hints at a torrid past with Mary Meredith, in the way that nearly any controlling, crazy-eyed spinster from Hollywood’s studio system signals a closeted lesbian.

Sufficiently elegant, The Uninvited really defines the cliché as the kind of movie they just don’t make anymore; no one really caters to viewers who can’t bear to turn the lights off during a scary movie. Spooky and sweet, and certainly for those with a British bent (those Cornish cliffs may be dangerous, but they’re awfully alluring) Allen’s ghost story remains quintessential to the genre.

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