Sunday, November 29, 2020

'House of Horrors' contains both good and bad

House of Horrors (1946)
Starring: Martin Kosleck, Rondo Hatton, Virginia Grey, Robert Lowery, Bill, Goodwin, Alan Napier, and Joan Fulton
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Marcel (Kosleck), a sculptor of meager talent, manipulates a psychopathic killer known as The Creeper (Hatton) into murdering critics he feel ruined his career as an artist.

Rondo Hatten and Martin Kosleck in "House of Horrors" (1946)

"House of Horrors" is a well-acted, fairly well-written film that is elevated by stylish camera-work  stylishly shot with sets and camera angles and lighting that takes full advantage of the black-and-white medium. Like most the Universal horror films from the 1940s and 1950s, it's a film that's worth watching for the quality cinematography alone. It makes this already briskly paced film go by even faster. The chilling scenes where Rondo Hatton's character is preparing to kill Virginia Grey and Joan Fulton respectively are also definite highlights of not only this movie, but horror films of the 1940s in general.

Among other highlights are Alan Napier (perhaps best remembered as Bruce Wayne's butler in the 1960s "Batman" television series) as an art critic you'll want to see murdered; fine performances by Martin Kosleck and Rondo Hatton as a pair of very different maniacs; and Robert Lowery and Virginia Grey who have a sort-of lowkey on-screen chemistry that make them very believable as a couple in a steady relationship.

So why did I only give "House of Horrors" a Six of Ten rating? 

Well, for one, the script moves a little too briskly. While I got that the psychopath was so grateful to the artist for saving his life that OF COURSE he's willing to kill those who have done harm to his new (and only) friend. What I want to know is how did Marcel know that the psychotic killer he fished from the harbor would be willing to kill for him?

Virginia Grey in "House of Horrors" (1946)

Second, while I like the fact the film has a sort of in media res feeling vis-a-vis Rondo Hatton's serial killer character, I still think the film would have stronger if they'd filled in a little more of his backstory. It might have given an opportunity to explain why Marcel knew he would "weaponize" him successfully. (On the other hand, it allowed me to fill in the blanks with something  far more interesting than what the writers probably would have provided. Still, there is such a think as leaving too much to the imagination, and I think this is an example of that.)

Finally, although generally well-written, I found some of the actions taken by the film's heroine, played by Virginia Grey, to be so annoyingly stupid they almost ruined the character entirely. I can't get specific, but they fall squarely in the Stupid Character Syndrome (SCS) that's caused by writers who are either too sloppy or lazy to make their plot flow , so one or more characters has to do monumentally stupid things to make sure the story keeps movie toward the resolution. When Grey's character does the first stupid thing, you may think she's just hungry for a scoop to fill her weekly arts column, but when she does the next stupid thing, you'll see the full-blown case of SCS for what it is. It's a shame more care wasn't spent on those parts of the plot, because it drags the whole movie down. 

Although not perfect, "House of Horrors" is still well worth our time, especially if you're looking for some light viewing to get ready for Halloween.

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