HOUSE OF HORRORS (1946)
aka SINISTER SHADOW, MURDER MANSION, JOAN MEDFORD IS MISSING
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Written by George Bricker (screenplay), Dwight V. Babcock (story)
Starring Robert Lowery, Virginia Grey, Bill Goodwin, Martin Kosleck, Alan Napier, Howard Freeman, Virginia Christine, Joan Shawlee, & Rondo Hatton as Hal Moffat aka the Creeper!
HOUSE OF HORRORS is the second in the Creeper series starring horror icon Rondo Hatton. I’m hoping to check out the first (PEARL OF DEATH) and third of the films (THE BRUTE MAN) sometime soon because HOUSE OF HORRORS was awesome! Though I knew about the giant-sized actor Rondo Hatton, I have to admit, I’d never seen the man in action. I did love the homage to the character in THE ROCKETEER, but that was a guy in makeup and not the actual Hatton. Here we get to see the big man in all his gruesome glory and it is a sight to see!
When his sculpture is negatively reviewed by an uppity art critic, Martin Kosleck (Marcel De Lange) is left distraught and vengeful. Waling along the riverside, he happens upon a drowning Hal Moffat also known as the Creeper (Rondo Hatton), rescues him and nurses him back to health. Feeling indebted to his rescuer, the Creeper decides to kill Martin’s critics one by one with his giant mitts.
The one thing that stood out for me right off the bat was that the current critics vs artists feud is nothing new. It seems any time someone tries to do something creative, there is someone there to criticize it. Having played the part of both creator and critic through the years, I feel that somewhere between the blind passion of the artist and the cold viewpoint of the critic often lays the truth to varying degrees. Either way, I found this ongoing theme throughout the film amusing and as relevant today as it was back then.
The story is pretty simple, as most of these old films were. Martin gets frustrated with a critic and happens to mention where that critic lives within earshot of the Creeper, and soon the Creeper is snapping his or her spine. The process repeats a few times while Martin is sculpting the Creeper’s visage in a massive clay sculpture. While it is simple, it does offer up quite a few great scenes of Hatton sneaking around in the shadows and lumbering towards his victims. The use of shadow and the way director Jean Yarbrough allows Hatton to take up almost the entire screen in his shots are quite elevated for this type of schlocky horror flick.
It’s a shame Hatton died before his next movie (THE BRUTE MAN) would hit theaters. It would seem the man could have been a bigger star than he was. I can’t wait to seek out the rest of this series as Hatton shows quite a bit of range though his simple dialog and movements. While he’s not the greatest thespian, he does have a fantastic presence on screen, reminiscent of Andre the Giant. His Creeper in HOUSE OF HORRORS shows real gratitude for Martin for helping him and like a doting puppy, it seems all he wants to do is please his rescuer. He’s not just some lumbering monster—Hatton plays him as a real person with a soul and emotions.
When I pressed play on this film, I knew nothing about HOUSE OF HORRORS. I thought it was another take on the Wax Museum style movies. Little did I know how impressed I was about to be from the presence of Hatton, to the thrilling plot, to the snappy script filled with nods to the relationship between critics and artists. HOUSE OF HORRORS is full of surprises and definitely going to be a treat for critics, fans, artists, and giant monsters alike.