House of Mystery (promoted as The House of Mystery) is a 1934 American murder thriller film directed by William Nigh from a screenplay by Albert DeMond, based on a play by Adam Shirk (The Ape). It was distributed by Monogram Pictures.
“Somewhere in Asia [actually India], in 1913, drunk John Prendergast, a thieving American archaeologist, kills a monkey in a Hindu temple and then insults a priest, who places the “Curse of Kali” on him and seemingly brings a stuffed gorilla to life.
Prendergast disappears with Chanda, his native girl friend, and remains hidden until he is spotted in the United States twenty years later by Mrs. Potter, a no-nonsense woman whose absent-minded professor husband was one of Prendergast’s original sponsors. Mrs. Potter informs lawyer Jerome Ellis about her discovery and asks him to contact all of Prendergast’s underwriters and their heirs.
As instructed, Ellis brings together the remaining shareholders in the 1913 expedition — Jack Armstrong, a young insurance salesman; wealthy hypochondriac Geraldine Carfax; her clairvoyant companion Stella Walters; the Potters; and gambler David Fells — and extends them an invitation from Prendergast, who is now known as the philanthropic John Pren.
At his estate, the partially paralysed Prendergast, who employs Chanda as his housekeeper, explains to the group that, in spite of attempts on his part to appease the priest and the gorilla spirit Kali, his own health was ruined and two English shareholders were murdered when he attempted to pay them their ill-gotten earnings.
Although intimidated, the group chooses to remain in the house and claim their share of Prendergast’s two million dollar haul. After Jack becomes acquainted with Ella Browning, Prendergast’s pretty English nurse, Stella organizes a seance to contact the spirit of Kali. During the seance, the sound of beating drums is heard, incense burns, and the lights suddenly dim. A moment later, Mrs. Carfax is found strangled, and Inspector Ned Pickens arrives to investigate.
That night, the group hears the beating tom-tom again and discovers Fells, who was deeply in debt, dressed in an gorilla costume, dead. After fruitless questioning by Pickens, Jack is attacked by the real ape but escapes unharmed. Pickens accuses Jack of the murders and is about to arrest him when he finds Stella dead and Prendergast unconscious. Then a stymied Pickens receives a note from Scotland Yard ordering him to take the shareholders to Ellis’ office.
After a jealous Chanda overhears Prendergast propose to Ella, who has fallen in love with Jack, she releases the gorilla and commands it to kill her conniving, faithless lover. The group, meanwhile, learns from the Scotland Yard detective, who had been impersonating a mute plumber at Prendergast’s home, about Prendergast’s scheme to fake paralysis and use the curse of Kali to kill off all claimants to his fortune. Led by an anxious Jack, the police then rush to Prendergast’s and rescue Ella from the hands of the killer ape.” (Courtesy of AFI)
A typical 1930s guests-gathered-together-at-an-old-dark-house mystery thriller, many of which also featured apes as the source of terror. House of Mystery involves a supposed Indian Hindu curse which makes it slightly more interesting than the usual fright fare of this sort.
Both the onscreen banter and cast is lively enough, despite some mugging by Irving Bacon as the detective (he can be mildly irritating). Unlike some other movies of this ilk, this one doesn’t drag and is perfectly good for late-night viewing for fans of old dark house mysteries.
Adrian J Smith , MOVIES & MANIA
Cast and characters:
- Ed Lowry as Dylan “Jack” Armstrong
- Verna Hillie as Ella Browning
- John Sheehan as Harry Smith
- Brandon Hurst as Hindu Priest
- Joyzelle Joyner as Chanda
- Fritzi Ridgeway as Stella Walker
- Clay Clement as John Prendergast aka John Pren
- George ‘Gabby’ Hayes as David Fells
- Dale Fuller as Mrs. Geraldine Carfax
- Harry C. Bradley as Prof. Horatio Potter
- Irving Bacon as Police Insp. Ned Pickens
- Mary Foy as Mrs. Hyacinth Potter
“Strange? Ha! She looks more like Ghandi’s ghost”
“We’ll all be killed one by one. Just like rats in a trap.”