House of Horrors (1946)

Rondo Hatton prefers Parkay

The International House of Pancakes: Ooh- la-la. It’s a name that invokes the idea of a breakfast bounty from all parts of the world. Maybe there are ephemeral cream-filled breakfast yummies from France? Or perhaps an exotic taste from the Far East? Nope. It’s just a table caddy with three or four kinds of terrible syrup. And now, in another sign on American decay, the peaked-roof buildings that housed the House of Pancakes are gone, replaced by the samey flat-roofed yawn inspiring architecture that graces pretty much every chain restaurant.

House of Horrors: It’s a title that invokes images of haunted houses or maybe a clutch of disgusting blood-sucking vampires hiding in the basement or a long weekend with the in-laws. Like the International House of Pancakes, the name does not describe the film in any way. Coming late in the Universal Horror canon, House of Horrors shows the decay of the studio’s vital monster force. Oddly, it (along with The Pearl of Death and Brute Man) prefigure the slasher movies yet to come.

At the heart of the story is, not a house, but a man — the killer known as The Creeper. The horror part comes with the casual attitude displayed by The Creeper toward murder. How casual? Occasionally my wife will ask me to drive five blocks to the store for ice cream. “Okay. What flavor?” I dully ask. She tells me. I go get it. Now let’s imagine I’m The Creeper and my wife is The Creeper’s pal Marcel DeLange. My wife goes on and on about the art critics who are scotching her sales. “Okay. Where do they live?” I dully ask. She tells me. I go kill them.

Eventually the cops get wise to the whole thing and they put an end to The Creeper’s killing spree. Or do they? Mwahahaha!
House of Horrors follows the, by then, very threadbare story route of the era. But for some minor tweaks, the movie plays out like any one of a several dozen low budget “mad scientist and his monster” films.

All that aside, there are a few things about House of Horrors I find interesting. In fearsome appearance of Rondo Hatton, Universal had a foundation for a “franchise” character in The Creeper, which was cut to only three films dues to Mr. Hatton’s untimely death. Universal was onto something — they just didn’t know what. Some of the tropes widely adopted in genre that are evident here: a villain who gets his in end, only to inexplicably return in a sequel, “bad girls” who fall victim to the killer, and the strong female protagonist.

The Creeper’s foil is art reporter Joan Medford (Virginia Grey), who is by far the smartest and bravest character in the film. It’s Medford intrepid and quick witted, who poses any threat to The Creep. It is through her that he eventually meets his fate. Though the film does take some pains to make a hero of her boyfriend Steven Morrow (Robert Lowery), diminishing Medford, it’s a hollow sort of heroism. In all ways, except physically throwing down against the villain, she is an early example of the “Final Girl.”
One other thing I love about this film, which comes entirely from a place of nostalgia, is that the flavor of the film is so deliciously of the time. There are only so many of these films and they’ll never be any more. They should be savored.

A few words should be said about Rondo Hatton. He was marketed as a monster, but was far from being a dull, murderous brute. He suffered from acromegaly, a gradual disease of the pituitary gland causing excess production of growth hormone, which disfigured his face, head, and limbs. This was always the case, for Hatton the disease struck a bit later in life than usual. It’s ironic given that he was voted “handsomest boy” in high school.

Note: The sculpture of Hatton in the movie by DeLange served as the model for the statuette given out by the annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Also, director Jean Yarbrough directed the film The Creeper (1948) which had neither Rondo Hatton, who has since died, or the character The Creeper.

Starring:
Rondo Hatton
Robert Lowery
Virginia Grey
Bill Goodwin
Martin Kosleck

Director:
Jean Yarbrough

Screenplay:
George Bricker
Dwight V. Babcock

 

Two of Five Vincents

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