Ghosts Get Serious in The Uninvited (1944)
As a horror movie fan, I do what I can to familiarize myself with noteworthy milestones in horror movie history. Thus, I recently watched The Uninvited, a 1944 horror movie that was based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle. The Uninvited was one of the first Hollywood movies that took ghosts and haunted houses seriously. Previous films either featured ghosts in comedies or revealed them to be practical jokes or engineered distractions to keep attention away from criminal activities (you know, like most of the plots in Scooby Doo cartoons).
The Uninvited tells the story of pair of siblings, Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey), who purchase an abandoned mansion that overlooks the English coast. Spooky and inexplicable things begin to occur shortly after they move in and their subsequent investigation into these paranormal events takes them into the strange, secretive lives of the mansion's original owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), and his granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell).
The Uninvited is a well made movie, with a talented and likable cast, polished direction and cinematography, and special effects that are still convincing even by today's standards. Nevertheless, seasoned horror fans will notice a significant difference between this ghost story and subsequent movies such as The Haunting (1963), The Changeling (1980), and Poltergeist (1982). When watching this movie, it felt like the filmmakers were extremely reluctant to use the ghost as the source of dread and scares; instead, they opted to focus on the mystery behind the mansion's haunting, a mystery that doesn't take long to solve. In fact, I would wager that most modern viewers will figure out what is haunting the mansion and why halfway through the movie, long before the main characters do. Further emphasizing such reluctance is the dialogue exchanges between the characters (much of it consists of witty banter) and very few of the characters are genuinely frightened of the haunting.
I'm still recommending The Uninvited to horror fans due to its significance within horror cinema and because of its overall quality, yet I'm also certain that others will come away from this film feeling the same way I did in that it is a missed opportunity. Given the subtexts of the film's central mystery (which includes thinly repressed lesbianism, among other things), The Uninvited could have been a much bolder film had the filmmakers put more confidence in their subject matter and shifted the story's main perspective to that of Stella's, which would have made this ghost story a more focused cinematic experience.