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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The House of Mystery (1934)

The movie opens in Asia where we see an archaeologist named Prendergast getting drunk in a bar and eventually getting tossed out. We next see him crashing a sacred ceremony and talking down at the priest. Angered they curse him with the vengeance of their god, Kali, and animate a stuffed gorilla to attack him. But there is a dancer who apparently loves him and she helps in his escape.

The action then moves to twenty years later when a lawyer reads a newspaper headline about some treasure being looted all those years ago. I guess that Prendergast made good on this plans and stole the temple’s loot. Though he disappeared until recently being spotted and now the investors in his expedition want their cut. To this end they hire a lawyer named Ellis who contacts Prendergast and they all plan to meet at his country home. When they arrive they find him crippled and in a wheelchair. He warns that with the treasure comes the terrible curse. They don’t believe him until the investors start to die one by one at the hands of a gorilla! The police are called and after some twists and turns the mystery is solved.

I’ve included The House of Mystery in my marathon here though it more likely fits in the horror category. Though there is a murder and a spooky old house full of suspects there isn’t really a detective collecting clues. The police inspector that shows up after the first killing is played more for laughs and in a running gag has no idea what the heck is going on. I will say that eventually we do find out that a proper detective from Scotland Yard has been on the case from the start, but he only shows up at the end to give the solution. There is zero chance at figuring out who the killer is because we don’t get any clues. So again, while there are some familiar elements this isn’t much of a mystery.

Nothing quite like a good old Gorilla suit
With that out of the way what is this movie? What we have here is an early entry into the old dark house subgenre of early horror. Named after the movie of the same name that means we get a healthy dose of the spooky stuff. The boxes checked here include a séance, a mysterious note (actually a couple of them), hints at mysticism, secret passages, and as is the case with many of the sillier entries a gorilla costume! After a bit of a slow start the pacing is solid with the last half hour filled with the characters running around finding bodies. This combined with some snappy dialogue and odd but effective attempts at humor this is a decent flick.

I suppose I need to warn folks new to these early movies that it can seem a bit talky at times. We get a lot of dialogue and exposition. The reason for that is most of these scripts were adapted from stage plays. Plays don’t have the option of cutting in scenes at different locations so they filled in the blanks with characters talking about what happened elsewhere. Also the camera is very static as if they were trying to recreate the experience of sitting in a theater watching the play. For viewers used to modern movie sensibilities this can be a bit off-putting. But once you get adjust it can be a fun ride.

If what I just mentioned above doesn’t scare you away then I think The House of Mystery might be something you want to check out. It comes in at around an hour and is available all over the internet as the movie has long since fallen into the public domain.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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