Written by: Carroll Jenkins on November 10th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1946
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Writers: Dwight V. Babcock, George Bricker
Cast: Robert Lowery, Virginia Grey, Bill Goodwin, Martin Kosleck, Alan Napier, Howard Freeman, Joan Shawlee, Virginia Christine, Rondo Hatton
DVD released: October 31st, 2009
Approximate running time: 66 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: TCM / Universal
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.99
Synopsis: A starving artist is persecuted by a relentlessly harsh art critic. This same critic savages a successful cheesecake pinup artist who’s fiancée is an art critic for the local paper. The pinup model takes up with the detective investigating the rash of murders that fit the modus operandi of the Creeper – but he was drowned in the river. Or was he?
This is actually one of the best Universal horrors of the 40’s, a list that is generally topped off with The Wolf Man. House of Horrors can certainly hold it’s own against most other contenders such as Man Made Monster, and it blows away inferior junk like The Mad Ghoul. It may not have Jack Pierce makeup, but it’s got Rondo Hatton, so who needs makeup?
This is Rondo’s first starring role (the second and last being The Brute Man) after a number of bits in films as diverse as The Ox Bow Incident, Hunchback Of Notre Dame (’39), and Pearl Of Death [as the Hoxton Creeper]. He suffered from acromegaly which was in an advanced state at this time, and he was certainly cast more for his physical appearance than for thespian skills. Not really fair to label him as “a Tor Johnson” type, because his deformities made speech difficult. Despite limited dialog, Rondo exudes a charisma that invites empathy, and even lets us forgive that his Creeper character is an remorseless serial killer. The segments of the creeper stalking victims are highlights and contain terrific noir shadows and angles.
Martin Kolseck (Flesh Eaters) turns in a magnificently understated role as the mad sculptor, and his Victorian studio / home is filled with greatly absurd surrealist sculptures. Unfortunately, the romantic subplot takes a lot of the brief 66 minute run time, and some of that acting verges on atrocious, including veteran Virginia Grey. Joan Fulton nearly steals the picture, however, as the pinup model that provides both eye candy and comic relief. Much as in Sergio Leone’s films many of the ancillary characters rivet your attention, sometimes with only seconds of screen time: the customer (Byron Foulger), the streetwalker, the janitor, the taxi cab driver, the switchboard operator, and the typesetter are all memorable.
This is a pressed DVD (rather than a burned DVD-R) from TCM / Universal, and the quality of the feature is quite fine, though there are no subtitles or closed captions. The posters and lobby cards galleries are nice, but the press photos and stills are so overburned as to be unwatchable.
Apparently director Jean Yarbrough realized the shortcomings of the plot and the mediocrity of some of his players, because just as it starts to wear he pulls something out of the hat to save the day. Imperfect but highly recommended – and if you disagree there’s a friend of mine I’d like you to meet.
Note: House of Horrors is also available as part of a box set titled The Universal Cult Horror Collection which also comes with these titles, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, Murders in the Zoo, The Mad Ghoul and The Strange Case of Dr. RX.