Art House Horror (Literally)

Terrifying. Every minute of House of Horrors is unrelentingly terrifying as a madman seeks out and murders critics. Who even imagines such transgressions?

Kidding aside, House of Horrors plays to Universal’s strengths, waning in familiarity by 1946. A feeble man finds a willing killer, sending this new friend out to strangle enemies – in this case, the victims are art critics, offending a small time, starving New York sculptor.

Enter Rondo Hatton, one of three times he played The Creeper in totally disconnected films. Suffering disfigurement, Hatton found a niche, albeit one that plays to an unfortunate stereotype – the disabled and deformed must always be villains. In House of Horrors, he says little and although manipulated, appears to enjoy his new gig as a lackey. There’s no doubt what Hatton is. In another role released the same year (The Brute Man) this is taken to extremes, if not making House of Horrors look any better in this aspect.

Yet, House of Horrors fills itself with unlikable characters. This entire swatch of New York is occupied by sexists, smug writers, angry artists, and arrogant cops. There’s an unseemly, colorful tenor to House of Horrors, distinct in Universal stories. Those pulp qualities craft something around Hatton worth watching when he’s off-screen.

There’s an unseemly, colorful tenor to House of Horrors, distinct in Universal stories

Art is defined by the dollars it commands, so states Alan Napier playing an art critic. Imagine then Napier’s character sitting at his typewriter, word lashing the sour post-war output of Universal. House of Horrors uses Hatton because he didn’t require expensive makeup, yet the look still suited the formula; replace Hatton with any of The Mummy roles and nothing changes plot-wise. It’s stilted creatively, energized entirely by bit players.

The best part goes to Virginia Grey, a snippy writer chasing a story and standing up to the men around her. While succumbing to damsel tropes in the House of Horrors’ last act, what comes before builds a definitive feminine presence. She’s a joy on screen, in a role ahead of its time (mostly, anyway).

Given that House of Horrors isn’t driven by, well, horrors, other genre films at the time fill this niche. Pick the Creature from the Black Lagoon sequels or any endlessly tiring Mummy follow-ups for the same. Credit to a spirited, even satirical script for the standout material in an otherwise redundant killer-on-the-loose tale.

Video

While the other black & white features in Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 look fantastic, in comes House of Horrors to ruin that streak. Edge enhancement gives this transfer a harsh appearance. Grain rises unnaturally. Heavy halos further ruin what looks to be a pleasing print behind the digital touch-up.

Just because, low-pass filtering adds a smeary quality, denying texture while creating banding in the gray scale. Contrast doesn’t suffer, hardened shadows and firm highlights well managed. Sadly, it’s all too messy given the tinkering.

In the future, House of Horrors looks ready for a decent, proper master. The print is consistent and low on damage. To Shout/Scream Factory’s credit, the encode deals with the grain structure, even when the sets fill with fog.

Audio

Rudimentary stuff these days, delivered in DTS-HD. Dialog cleans up well, while the limited range score presents highs minus distortion. Yes, Blu-ray spoiled us all in uncompressed audio’s wonder, as well as condition. No popping or hiss develops in this track.

Extras

Scott Gallinghouse provides commentary, interesting enough, and a 22-minute featurette tells Rondo Hatton’s story through a variety of interviews, from historians to effects artists.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

House of Horrors
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Movie

Rondo Hatton stars as The Creeper, but House of Horrors is lifted by its eccentric, witty side characters rather than the body count.

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