Haunted Households

Haunted Households

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Aug 30th 2018

When houses aren’t merely homes but also bastions of horror and/or sorcery, imaginative moviemakers and genre fans regularly pounce with neverending relish. Opportunity knocks this weekend in theaters with the arrival of The Little Stranger (2018), in which Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter and Charlotte Rampling confront the grimly gothic history of Hundreds Hall, courtesy of an unnerving adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 2009 novel directed by Lenny Abrahamson, an Oscar® nominee for the acclaimed 2015 drama Room.Family friendly audiences can soon revel in a less stressful PG-rated adaptation, director Eli Roth’s rendition of John Bellairs’ 1973 young-adult fantasy favorite The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018), materializing three weeks from now with Jack Black, Cate Blanchett and Kyle MacLachlan in a visually vibrant yarn full of witches-and-warlocks spectacle providing scary good fun.

However, should you want to chill your blood by visiting gloomy country estates with a dark past, a couple of choice Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray gems can do the trick at home without having to venture into the demonic depths of the local multiplex. In the 19th-century Hudson River Valley stands the imposing manor called Dragonwyck (1946), owned by aristocratic land baron Vincent Price, whose outward air of culture and refinement masks a troubled family legacy and an even more menacing personal psychosis, which visiting distant family relation Gene Tierney will soon discover at peril to her life. Adapted from Anya Seton’s best-selling novel by first-time director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film luxuriates in top-tier acting talent (Walter Huston, Anne Revere, Spring Byington, Glenn Langan, Jessica Tandy), production design, cinematography (Arthur C. Miller), score (Alfred Newman) and a lush otherworldly atmosphere weaving together elements of ghostly presences, murderous schemes and class conflicts into a marvelous whole that provided the invaluable Price, heretofore a sturdy supporting player on film, a major early showcase to utterly command the screen in his own right. If family curses are your specialty, one of the most emblematic cases in that grisly tradition is grandly served up in Hammer Studio’s vivid Technicolor interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), which summons the illustrious Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and sleuthing cohort Dr. John Watson (André Morell) to shadowy Baskerville Hall near the Dartmoor moors. There, the Victorian-Era master detective relentlessly follows the trail of clues to determine where a legendary “demon-dog from hell” reportedly responsible for killing a notorious family decedent centuries ago is still on the prowl to do the same for the new heir to the title (Christopher Lee). True to the Hammer brand and as adapted by screenwriter Peter Bryan, the detection process is accessorized with a meticulous period recreation, ominous music by regular Hammer composer James Bernard, and bold flashes of violence that director Terence Fisher and his design crew serve up with a flourish that puts every dollar of the rigorously controlled budget on screen for maximum effect, whether inside the grand residence’s walls (a standing set employed on many a Hammer horror project), on actual country locations or amazingly constructed soundstage duplications of murky, menacing landscapes. The fear factor is amplified by the marvelous extras (Commentaries, Creative Team Featurettes, Documentary Profiles and more) present on TT’s frightful discs of Dragonwyck and The Hound of the Baskervilles, ensuring that home is where the heart palpitations are.