Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stella by Starlight

Alan Napier, Ray Milland, Gail Russell and Ruth Hussey
Long before CGI and graphic violence, Horror movies relied on atmosphere, acting and double exposures. Director Lewis Allen's 1944 film The Uninvited (an adaptation of Dorothy Macardle's novel "Uneasy Freehold") is just such a picture.

Composer Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) find themselves enamored of the long-abandoned Windward House, on the rocky coast of Cornwall. After purchasing the house for a ridiculous price, they meet Stella (Gail Russell), the owner's granddaughter whose mother died there. When Rick and Pamela unlock a secret artist's studio, they release a malevolent spirit. The house is soon filled with moans and groans in the night; withering flowers and unexplained chills. When Stella arrives for dinner, she senses a spirit which she believes to be her mother's. The local doctor (Alan Napier - best known as Alfred on the campy 1960's "Batman" TV series) explains that Stella's father had an affair with a Spanish Gypsy named Carmel, who murdered Stella's mother by flinging her off the cliff outside the house.

While it's rather simplistic story and crude (by today's standards) special effects may not resonate with modern audiences, The Uninvited remains one of the first ghost movies that creeped out Uncle P as a child (back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth). It also features Cornelia Otis Skinner as Miss Halloway, who runs a sanitarium; a character who is obviously a 1940's version of a lesbian - stern, cold and impartial. Of course, Ray Milland appeared in several genre films including Premature Burial; Panic in the Year Zero!; X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes; Frogs and The Uncanny, among others. He's probably best known for his Oscar-winning performance as an alcoholic in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend.

The Uninvited was named by director Martin Scorcese as the third of 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time in 2009.

The song "Stella by Starlight" was written as the film's instrumental theme by Victor Young, with lyrics added two years later by Ned Washington. It has appeared in several films since then, most recently in Stanley Kubrick's highly overrated 1980 version of Stephen King's The Shining.

Again, if you've never seen The Uninvited, I recommend doing so with the lights down and someone to hold onto.

More, anon.

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