Peter Dyneley, Jane Hylton, Colin Gordon (The Body Beneath), Maurice Kaufmann, John Merivale, Colette Wilde, Molly Urquhart, Nanette Newman.
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The film is a classic ‘quota quickie’ – made to fulfil the British film quota imposed on cinemas. This rule ensured that a number of ‘full supporting features’ were cranked out to play alongside more popular American films, and while this system eventually degenerated into the release of tedious travelogues and plodding information films, for a while, it ensured that some interesting – and now, unfortunately, all too rarely seen – productions were made.
House of Mystery is one such film. It opens with pair of newlyweds arriving at country cottage that is for sale, where they meet a mysterious woman whom they assume to be a housekeeper (even though the house clearly hasn’t been occupied or cleaned in many years). The woman shows them around and then mentions a ghost as one possible reason why the house is unsold despite being ridiculously cheap. She then tells stories about the former occupants, which are effectively a collection of tales interwoven into one.
The previous owners (including Nanette Newman) start to experience supernatural events, and find that the ghostly figure haunting their home is a vengeful scientist, who was obsessed with electricity, and held his unfaithful wife and her lover hostage in an electrified room after they had tried to murder him – a moment of Saw-like ingenious sadism!
Running just 56 minutes, the film is clearly low budget stuff, but unusually entertaining with its oddly involved story that has flashbacks within flashbacks. Sewell directs with efficiency – there’s no room for anything fancy in a quickie production like this. Most of the action takes place in a single location with a minimal cast.
Yet there’s a genuine eerie feeling within the story and the movie is a great deal better than you would expect, and mixes chills with pseudo-scientific gobbledegook from psychic investigator Colin Gordon. The atmosphere is helped by a suitably spooky score by Stanley Black (Blood of the Vampire; Jack the Ripper; Maniac).
The film is based on the play L’Angoisse by Celia de Vilyars and Pierre Mills, and it’s safe to say that Sewell was rather fond of the story – he’d already filmed it three times, as The Medium (1934), Latin Quarter (1945) and Ghost Ship (1952).
In America, the film was shown on TV as part of the Kraft Mystery Theatre series, and it would subsequently be packaged as part of the Edgar Wallace series of films that Anglo-Amalgamated were producing at the same time (and which were also B-movies under an hour long). It’s currently available on DVD in the UK as part of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries box set.
Director Vernon Sewell had a four decade career. His other films include supernatural comedy The Ghosts of Berkeley Square and a trio of horror films that came at the end of his career – The Blood Beast Terror, Curse of the Crimson Altar and Burke & Hare.
David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA
“This is an outstanding supernatural thriller that, despite its obvious economies (the feature runs less than an hour), manages to make a considerable impact and induce some genuine chills.”Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams
Cast and characters:
- Stella Lemming – Jane Hylton
- Mark Lemming – Peter Dyneley
- Joan Trevor – Nanette Newman
- Henry Trevor – Maurice Kaufmann
- Burdon – Colin Gordon
- Clive – John Merivale
- Young Husband – Ronald Hines
- His Wife – Colette Wilde
- Mrs Bucknall – Molly Urquhart
- Constable – George Selway