The Uninvited (1944)

Director: Lewis Allen

I don’t suppose most horror fans think of the 1940s as an even remotely golden age for the genre. That’s partly because I suspect most horror fans don’t acknowledge the genre even existed before the 1970s, but also because, in real terms, the pickings were pretty slim. What we have here is one of those slim pickings, a great little film from a thin period, that’s always sounded interesting to me since I read about it in Everson, but was inaccessible to me until the Criterion release; happily it was worth the wait. I wrote in one of my Val Lewton reviews that at one point RKO wanted to promote him to produce their A films; although this is a Paramount job rather than an RKO one, I still imagine that this is what a Lewton A-level production might’ve looked like (had he still made horror at that level, of course). I don’t think director Lewis Allen actually cited Lewton as an influence, but he was certainly of a similar mind about keeping visible horrors off-screen; apparently the handful of ghost appearances were a studio imposition, Paramount thinking a ghost story should have visible ghosts. And it is ghosts plural, as we find out in the course of the story unfolding, the ghosts of two women kind of battling each other for the life (or otherwise) of a young girl who is the daughter of one of them. The film actually begins in surprisingly light fashion—Ray Milland as the lead character is a regular font of wisecracking—and takes a while to settle on seriousness; once it does, though, OY. It turns into some quite gothic stuff as it develops and more of the background comes to light, murder, madness and whatnot… the atmosphere tonight being somewhat enhanced, perhaps, by a cracking thunderstorm outside while I was watching (still going on as I write these words), but the film sustains its own power quite nicely and it wisely refuses to cop out with a non-supernatural explanation for its events. An auspicious directorial debut for Lewis Allen (of whose other work I think I’ve only seen the terrific thriller Suddenly), and now one of my favourites from the 40s…

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