House of Mystery (1961) Review

House of Mystery

The obligatory cobwebby staircase.

This 1961 ghost story B movie is included on the fourth volume of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries DVD sets. A young couple who are house hunting go to view a beautiful house in the country, which is priced remarkable cheaply. They wonder what the catch is, until a strange woman tells them the story of the ghosts who inhabit the house.

Much of the film is told in flashback, and there are two main sequences: the previous owners (played by Nanette Newman and Maurice Kaufmann) suffering a haunting, and what caused the house to be haunted in the first place. The ghost activity is not particularly impressive, and seems very tame by modern standards. A light flickers on and off, and a lot of the film is spent rather tediously with investigations of the electrics and also the television, which briefly displays an image of the ghost (he just stands there – it’s not exactly scary). Viewers of a certain vintage might get a nostalgia kick from the window into a very different world this film offers us nowadays, a world where an engineer comes to repair a rented television, a local police officer can be telephoned at home and interrupted from his dinner, an electrician visits on the same day he is phoned, and a house is on the market for £2,500, when it’s worth £6,000. Most astonishingly of all to modern eyes, a man is able to phone up a television station and ask a question about the program being currently broadcast, and gets put through to the director in the studio. But if you think this world is idyllic, let’s not forget it was also a world in which Doctor Who didn’t yet exist, so we mustn’t be too rose-tinted in our perspective.

The haunting goes no further than annoying electrics and a man who appears and stands by the window. I don’t doubt that would be unnerving, but I would still be tempted to buy a house for £2,500 and just let the guy stand there if he wants to. Once we are shown the origin of the haunting, I must admit I wouldn’t be so keen, because it’s a disturbing tale of a man getting revenge on his wife and her lover.

The husband and wife in question are Stella and Mark Lemming (Jane Hylton and Peter Dyneley). Mark is being made a fool of, with Stella’s boyfriend virtually living in the house, and they are understandably the source of local gossip. Mark is a bit of an oddball, spending all his time doing some mad-scientist experiments on his dog, with a variety of electrical gadgets. His wife and her boyfriend decide to electrocute him in the bath, but their plan fails. Mark takes his revenge by trapping them in an electrified room, which they must escape within a certain time before he kills them anyway. They have no way of knowing what items in the room are live. For the Doctor Who fans, it’s like watching a particularly nasty game dreamt up by the Celestial Toymaker. Knowing that they are thoroughly nasty people who have cuckolded Mark and then attempted to kill him, there is initially a delicious irony in the manner of their torture, but the horror of the situation soon outweighs any feelings of glee at these unpleasant people getting their comeuppance.

Then we are back in the present day, and the young couple visiting the house realise exactly why nobody has bought this place yet, when the identity of their guide is revealed. There is absolutely no surprise in that revelation, because it’s obvious from the start (and the slightly clumsy writing means that the couple never challenge this strange woman about why she’s hanging around in a house she doesn’t own, and how she got in), but it’s still an effective punchline.

Much of the film drags on slowly with interminable investigations into the house wiring etc., and then endless scenes of Mark fiddling around with bits of technology, but when we finally get to his cruel “little game” the film transcends its low-budget origins to offer a classic horror moment that deserves more recognition that it’s ever going to get, languishing as an extra on a box set of crime thrillers. The forgotten gems often shine the brightest, and this one positively crackles with electricity.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Ricochet

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Movies, Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to House of Mystery (1961) Review

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Thanks, RP. The forgotten or specifically underwhelming films and TV stories can indeed often shine the brightest. I’m reminded of that when searching for reviews on them via WordPress or YouTube. It’s good to read about them here on the Junkyard. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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