#213: The Uninvited (1944)

Cult classic ghost noir sets the standard for its successors

june gloom
3 min readDec 3, 2023

This review was originally posted to Twitter on January 15, 2020.

Initial release: February 10, 1944
Director: Lewis Allen

With films like The Ring, Paranormal Activity and the Amityville series one could be forgiven for thinking the ghost genre has always been about malevolent spirits. But up until Lewis Allen’s 1944 film The Uninvited, that wasn’t strictly true. M. R. James is sometimes credited with being the creator of the modern ghost story (and arguably rightly so) — but his ghost stories, which eschewed traditionalist gothic tropes, often featured hostile entities. So it’s a wonder that it took Hollywood so long to catch up. Throughout the early years of film, the ghost genre tended to follow a specific formula that fans of Scooby Doo would be familiar with, with the ghost often being a ruse or a practical joke — or, in some cases, the ghost is real but the film is a comedy. (A good example of the latter type would be Topper from 1937, in which a couple wake up dead after an accident — a premise Beetlejuice fans would recognize — and decide to haunt their stodgy, boring friend to get him to loosen up.)

Ray Milland plays Roderick, who while vacationing with his sister Pamela in the English countryside, come upon a gorgeous old manor house. After buying it for a steal of a price, they move in. However, the house is the source of a number of rumors that claim it to be haunted; it’s also the family home of the owner’s granddaughter, who lived there until she was three when her mother died in a tragic accident. Roderick shrugs all this off of course, until one night, in an incredibly creepy scene, he wakes up to the sound of moaning. Pam hears it too, and tells him that she’d been hearing it off and on for weeks while he was in London sorting their affairs.
As the siblings try to get to the bottom of things, the former owner is tight-lipped about the whole thing while his granddaughter, whom he is very controlling of, is eager to revisit the house and tell what she knows about its history…

This is a sharply shot and directed film that, for a script that sometimes feels overwritten, or even mawkish in some spots, still manages to have some genuinely scary moments. The use of empty black space beyond doors swinging open adds an unnatural flavor. The main cast are all great, each of them having a chance to express their characters. Milland is the uneasy skeptic, Ruth Hussey is the romantic believer, and the brilliant but unfortunate Gail Russell is the sweet ingenue at the center of everything.

While the film concludes with everything neatly tied up, it really plays with ambiguity up until then, as the mystery is slowly peeled back like an onion. The finale could be seen as particularly melodramatic — but then it pulls the rug out from under you one last time.

While later films like The Innocents and The Haunting are more effective (and famous) examples of mid-century ghost cinema, The Uninvited is still a high-quality gem that would set the standard for its successors.




june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [she/her]