(1946) director Jean Yarbrough
viewed: 08/26/10 at the Roxie Theater, SF, CA
Shown as part of the Roxie Theater’s “Not Necessarily Noir” film series, House of Horrors is a late Universal Pictures horror film from the lower tiers of low budget. It’s most notable for featuring iconic, though obscure, actor Rondo Hatton, a man whose face and body were distorted by disease and wound up making for a cheap “effect” himself, a monster who required no make-up to be intimidating.
While most of the B-movies that are enjoyed now and in retrospect often have A-quality charms, House of Horrors is a B-picture all the way through. The story of a down-and-out sculptor, driven to near suicide by his awful mean-spirited critics, finds himself at the river’s edge, conemplating thowing himself in. But then he sees a man trying to escape the river and goes to help rescue him. That man turns out to be Rondo Hatton, a killer known in this film (and featured in a few others as well) as “The Creeper”, a man not terribly bright and also one who has received little kindness in his life. “The Creeper” is a serial murderer, temporarily thought dead by police. But when the sculptor begins to complain about his critics, Hatton takes the suggestion and starts murdering them. There is an aspect of influence of Val Lewton in this film.
The “Not Necessarily Noir” series is a wide-ranging one, featuring a number of films like this one that are not available on DVD, so not as well known as many of their contemporaries. There have been a few Noir festivals in San Francisco, including the annual Noir City series at the Castro Theatre. The Roxie has hosted some many times as well. But this series allows itself to take the term and find its stylistic characteristics in films that don’t fit so nicely in the usual film noir canon. That said, noir is considered a style, not a genre, though the bulk of most famous noirs are crime films or melodramas. But alongside these unusual older films, the selection at the Roxie also includes several “neo-noirs” or modern films with distinct noir flavorings, again not so typically categorized.
Frankly, I’m sorry that I missed several of the earlier films in the series. It had been ages since I’d last been to the Roxie. And with the announced closing of the Clay Theater on Fillmore earlier this week, it’s further testament to how these little neighborhood theaters will not be around much longer without better support. The Roxie has been through hard times in recent years, but has, I think, re-established itself a bit.
It’s a great film series and a cool little film.