House of Horrors [Reviewed by John Bruni]

House of Horrors67 min., 1946
Directed by Jean Yarborough
My rating: ***
IMDB

“Stop screaming.”

* * *

The Creeper’s back! But . . . how? He died at the end of THE PEARL OF DEATH, right? Sherlock Holmes emptied his pistol into the Creeper, didn’t he? Well . . . we’re not going to get any answers on this score because it apparently doesn’t matter. Besides, the Creeper has been thought to be dead before, remember? In THE PEARL OF DEATH, everyone thought he’d died escaping Devil’s Island. This time, everyone thinks he’s dead because Holmes killed him. What does it matter? He’s back, and once more, he’s played by the ever-creepy Rondo Hatton.

Meet Marcel DeLange (played by the wonderfully Renfield-esque Martin Kosleck), an impoverished artist barely scraping by on a diet of bread and cheese. He can’t even afford milk for his cat. However, he has high hopes for selling a sculpture that very night. Unfortunately, his client brings along an art critic, who tears DeLange a new one, and it’s pretty big. He loses a thousand bucks because of this jackhole. It infuriates him because he recognizes his own genius, and no one else does.

Here’s the thing: he is kind of brilliant. His work is pretty cutting edge. But as with all cutting edge art, it takes a while to get recognized. So instead of going back to square one, DeLange decides to throw himself into the harbor, thus ending his miserable life.

And that’s when he sees the Creeper emerging from the waters below, looking even more wretched than himself. Like most artists of odd taste, DeLange sees the beauty in the Creeper’s
acromegaly-disfigured features. He nurses the Creeper back to health, and all he asks in return is the chance to sculpt a bust of the man.

But DeLange isn’t stupid. He recognizes who this guy really is. But at first, all he cares about is using him as a model. Before long, though, his scheming mind realizes that he can use the Creeper for a much better purpose: eliminating his critics.

Through subtle (at first) manipulation, DeLange sets the Creeper on various art critics, and before long, the police, familiar with the Creeper’s style, are convinced that he’s survived yet again.

This is actually a pretty ingenious movie, for its time. It’s a great statement on the art world, especially in the character of Steve Morrow. He’s a great commercial success, but all he
does is pulp magazine covers and advertisements featuring models wearing “vacuous looks and little else.” At one point, a reviled art critic slaps a cover of a sports pulp bearing the image of
a scantily clad woman and says, “Have you ever seen a woman this perfect?” Sound familiar? Perhaps not much has changed in the art world since 1946 . . . .

It’s a surprisingly modern movie, considering the Creeper was one of the classic Universal monsters. The moody atmosphere and orchestral music of old are still in place, but the camera movements have come a far way from the point-and-shoot style utilized in many other classic pictures.

There are a few flaws, though. Never mind about how the Creeper survived being shot by Holmes; how the fuck did he get to America?! Did he swim? Is that the implication we’re to take away from this?

Also, the problem with giving Hatton a more front-and-center role is that you kind of have to give him lines to speak. His voice is as rough and unsteady as you would think it is, but isn’t the Creeper supposed to be British? The accent is a minor quibble, though, compared to his ability to speak lines. He is at his best when he is quiet and menacing, lurking in the shadows, his superhuman hands outstretched, waiting to twist your spine to pieces. Give him some lines, and it’s kind of like watching Grimlock talk on those old TRANSFORMERS cartoons. It’s not that bad, but it’s close.

But he’s got to talk, right? How else will he interact with DeLange? Well, DeLange, in the beginning, has a nasty habit of talking to his cat in order to get exposition across to the viewers. Sure, people talk to their cats all the time, but it’s a bit of a weak move in a piece of fiction. Also, director Jean Yarbrough doesn’t have the conviction of his material and shows it when he uses flashbacks to stuff that JUST HAPPENED in order to convey feelings DeLange was struggling with while attempting suicide. Kosleck is a great weasel of an actor, and he’s more than capable of expressing himself on screen. He’s easily the best actor here, even when he’s giving his speech to his cat. And of course, since it’s a Universal picture, there must be the plucky female reporter, full of vim and vigor and ah-cha-cha, look at dem gams! All right, she’s a pretty manipulative cunt, for her kind of character, so even that helps this movie go that extra mile.

This is a much more intense horror movie than THE PEARL OF DEATH, mostly due to Hatton’s Creeper. Of all the Universal monster films, this is the only one that actually takes place in America with an American monster (regardless of the Creeper’s questionable pedigree). Also, the Creeper is the only monster who was actually 100% human, to the point where Hatton didn’t need make-up. All of these things set him apart from the Draculas and Frankenstein’s monsters and Wolf-Men and so on.

The Creeper is special. Don’t miss out on his exploits. And when you view this movie, keep watching the progress on the sculpture of his head. Look at the sketch DeLange did to guide his way. That right there is pure artistry. Stay tuned for the upcoming review of THE BRUTE MAN, the third and final movie in the Creeper series!

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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