A perennial favorite. This chilling ghost story is full of haunting scenes, and a surprisingly great sense of humor. Just be sure to watch the classic from 1944 not the awful movie of the same name from 2009.
The story follows a brother and sister as they walk along the English countryside and find an old abandoned house that draws them in. They love the house despite an eerie presence, cold spots, and the sound of weeping that comes at night. They buy the house and move in right away. As the phenomena continue, they begin investigating the history of the house and try to uncover the secrets.
The movie is wonderfully atmospheric. The house is situated near the cliffs by the ocean. The house itself seems to be built of shadows. The sound design and music adds so much to the sense of unease. And the weeping that occurs at night chills and creates the most wonderful unease. The weeping can almost sound like wind or some natural sound in the house which makes it even more creepy because isn’t that the thing that scares us when we go into the basement and hear something that could be the furnace, but sounds suspiciously like something else?
The characters here are particularly funny. The two leads are Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. Both fantastic actors with great range and a wonderful sense of timing. The humor comes not from the situations, but to the reactions of these leads to the situations. Ray Milland when he first hears the weeping at night races into bed and pulls the blankets over his head. His character is witty and often jokes with the other characters with verbal rejoinders that are legitimately funny.
This was the first movie to take ghosts and ghost stories seriously. Before this ghosts were played purely for comedy. This movie gave them weight and took the idea of them as forces at work seriously. This interplay of serious ghosts and humor shouldn’t work. The humor should undermine the ghosts, but because the humor comes from character and not from the situation it works wonderfully. The humor endears the audience to the characters which makes us care so much more when they are put in peril.
This all adds up to a seance scene that wins the blue ribbon for seance scenes. The characters we have come to love through their humor and drive for the truth take a huge risk to speak directly to the evil force in the house. The ghost is malicious and this seance could seriously upset the spirit and cause serious consequences. The setup is perfect, and the execution delivers on the promise of the scene. The tension is heavy. The atmosphere is perfect as the lighting, sound design, and performances combine to create a truly frightening sequence.
This movie works. It is scary and funny and full of heart. It is everything a good ghost story should be and acts as a history lesson in horror films. Where did all the haunted house tropes and tricks come from that we see today? They came from this movie. Absolutely my cup of tea. A+