A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.
Architect Walter Craig, seeking the possibility of some work at a country farmhouse, soon finds himself once again stuck in his recurring nightmare. Dreading the end of the dream that he knows is coming, he must first listen to all the assembled guests' own bizarre tales. Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to Stephen Bourne's 2005 book "Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music," the depiction of Elisabeth Welch's character Beulah was "a breakthrough in the portrayal of black women in films... for the first time in a film, a black woman is portrayed as independent, successful and resourceful. [Welch] played an important part in the development of the plot, and was featured in the film's billing with such eminent players as Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns and Frederick Valk."
[Source: Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music, Stephen Bourne, Scarecrow Press, 2005] See more »
As Peter Cortland stands looking into the mirror his wife-to-be has bought him, the stripes on his tie run from his left side, down to his right. A reverse shot shows the stripes on his tie running in the same direction; obviously not a mirror image. See more »
Ah! Walter Craig?
How do you do? You're Eliot Foley.
That's right. So glad you were able to come, let's have your bag.
[takes Craig's bag]
We'll put the car away afterwards. You know it struck me after I'd telephoned you, rather a cheek on my part asking a busy architect like yourself to come down and spend the weekend with a set of complete strangers.
Not a bit.
You see we're pretty cramped for space here, we need at least two more bedrooms.
And with only one living room.
[...] See more »
This is one of those horror stories that just does not diminish over the years. An architect (Mervyn Johns, in his best dramatic role) is invited to the country home of a wealthy man (Roland Culver) and from the moment he drives up, he is aware that something familiar, and evil, is involved in this visit. Yet nothing bad is going on - it should be a routine visit. Still if it is a business visit, from the start it is not treated as a business visit. For one thing there is a set of guest at the home, including a psychiatrist (Frederick Valk), a young girl (Sally Ann Howe), a female family friend (Googie Withers), and a racing car driver (Anthony Baird). Johns acts nervously when he enters (he recognizes the interior of the house as well as it's outside surroundings), and he explains the situation to Culver and the others. They reassure him nothing is wrong, and proceed to give him a drink and discuss unexplained occult phenomenon they have all experienced (even the skeptical voice of reason Valk). It is these five experiences that take up the bulk of the film.
Although it is a well known horror movie, I will avoid explaining the moment of horror and how it expands, involving all the stories in a fierce conclusion. This is the best "Chinese Box" story that has ever been put on screen, in that everything does fall into place. The irony (for the viewer - and for Walter Craig, the nervous architect - is that we find at the end that the whole nightmare is about to begin all over again.
The best of the sequences (although a matter of taste) are the racing driver's, the female friend's, and the psychiatrist's. The driver, recovering from a crash in a hospital, keeps having a nightmare where he sees a hearse outside his window at a certain time, with a driver (Miles Malleson) who repeats, "Just room for one inside sir." This actually is a classic occult urban legend, as the face of the figure of doom reappears later at a key moment to scare the dream bearer into not proceeding with a normal act. The female friend's story is about how she and her husband barely manage to survive the acquiring of a Victorian mirror from an antiques dealer (Esme Percy). The mirror, it seems, has a life and evil spirit of it's own, and nearly makes history repeat itself.
The moment that raised this film to it's heights was the psychiatrist's tale. It deals with a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who shoots a rival (Hartley Power) for trying to steal the affections of his dummy Hugo. Besides the obvious homosexual overtones of the story, the story has Redgrave's best film performance (unless one counts his Jack Worthing in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST or his Andrew Crocker-Harris in THE BROWNING VERSION) as the insane Maxwell Freer. It also has a chilling unexpected conclusion when Valk, trying to get to the heart of Redgrave's psychosis, unleashes a demon that nobody expected.
The other two stories are less frightening - one (Sally Howes' story about a personal ghost experience, probably when she was visiting the English town of Road) concerning an actual 1860 murder of a little boy, Francis Saville Kent. The murderer who was eventually punished (his sister Constance) survived a twenty year incarceration after her confession - and lived to be 101 in Australia. Nowadays, recent studies of that case suggest that Constance was not the killer - her father Samuel, or his mistress, the family nurse, may have killed Francis to keep him from talking to his mother about seeing a tryst. Constance loved her father, and may have taken the rap to protect him. However, Francis was her step-brother, not a full brother, and the originally investigation by the brilliant Scotland Yard Detective Jonathan Whicher in 1860 pointed to Constance as the killer.
The least of the stories (told by Culver) is based on an amusing golf - ghost tale by H.G. Wells. It is a pleasant diversion (it stars Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as rival golf players), and allows the segment with Redgrave greater effect by coming just before it.
The film has had effects ever since it came out. For instance, Danny Kaye (who slightly resembles Redgrave) played a ventriloquist with psychological problems (or an independent dummy) in KNOCK ON WOOD a few years later. A troublesome dummy named "Gabbo" (also a reference to Eric Von Stroheim's THE GREAT GABBO) briefly replaced "Crusty the Clown" in the rating of Springfield in THE SIMPSONS. But for the best effect it is Redgrave's moment of madness here, and the wonderful climax of this frightening movie. Are there better deja vu films? Just room for one sir!
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