This is one of those crazy old films that I must have seen five or six trauma-inducing times as a kid, and had heard nothing about since. Thanks for reuniting us, Hulu Plus! Warning: This film is in glorious black and white. There’s no need to adjust your sets.
Written and directed by Hollywood utility man Delmer Daves (The Petrified Forest, Dark Passage, A Summer Place, Destination Tokyo, 3:10 To Yuma, among others) and based on a novel by George Agnew Chamberlain, The Red House is a legitimately creepy, rural gothic, coming-of-age mystery.
It’s also a master-class in acting taught by Edward G. Robinson, a man mostly remembered for his snarling gangster roles, such as the sadistic Johnny Rocco in the Bogart/Bacall thriller Key Largo.
Amidst a wild and bucolic countryside sits the sprawling Morgan Farm, where we find Pete Morgan (EGR), his sister Ellen (Dame Judith Anderson), and their (more or less) adopted ward-daughter-person Meg (Allene Roberts), who has a crush on Pete’s new hired hand, her high school classmate Nath (Lon McCallister).
One night, Nath decides to take a shortcut home through the woods, despite frantic warnings from Pete. While the lad insists that he must go through the woods to save time, Pete has a convincing anxiety attack, warning him about screams in the night coming from … The Red House! (dun, dun, Dun!)
Meg continues to moon over Nath, who’s in an unsatisfying relationship with Tibby (Julie London), a trampy rich girl who only has eyes for the brutish town poacher (Rory Calhoun, who wears an Elvis Presley pompadour several years before the King himself).
Meg and Nath find themselves thrown together, and decide to find that mysterious Red House in the woods.
While not horror per se, The Red House is thoroughly marinated in dread, with atmosphere to burn—including a surprising amount of smoldering teenage lust.
Certainly one could read Meg and Nath’s obsessive quest to find the “Red House” in the woods as the buildup to a sexual awakening. I’ll have you know, I studied this shit in school!
The dreamy score by legendary film composer Miklos Rozsa (Ben-Hur, Spellbound, Double Indemnity, among others), guides every scene to delirious heights, and the outré ending haunted my sleep for years. Or months, maybe.
And Edward G. Robinson is sublime as a basically decent man with too many secrets—and a slippery grasp on reality.
The Red House is the perfect movie to pull out on a night when everybody swears they’ve seen everything.