Saturday, August 25, 2012

In short: The Ghost of Rashmon Hall (1957)

aka The Night Comes Too Soon

At a some sort of social gathering given by John (Alec Faversham) and Phyllis (Anne Howard), a certain George Clinton (alas not the Funkadelic mastermind, but played by Valentine Dyall) tells what he and his hosts call a true ghost story that happened right in the house everyone is gathered in right now.

As newlyweds John and Phyllis had trouble finding an appropriate home, or rather, any home at all for themselves. Finally, the couple seemed to be lucky when a reluctant country estate agent offered them big old Rashmon Hall (called by about three other names in the film, but hey, it might just be a British thing and not an inconsistency).

The man's reluctance became more understandable once the couple - who didn't wish for an old dark house but took what they could get - had moved into their new home. There was something that went bump in the night, and though the spooky manifestations that soon enough turned into actual ghosts weren't all that horrible they were more than enough to convince John to pack Phyllis off to a hotel (reason in a horror movie!) and call in Clinton for help.

Even though The Ghost of Rashmon Hall is based on the Victorian Era story "The Haunters and the Haunted" by Bulwer-Lytton (a writer who was neither as inept nor as uninteresting as certain circles pretend he was), it seems to me to stand more in the tradition of that school of the British ghost story that began with M.R. James and went on until the Second World War, after which stronger horrors were needed.

The Ghost is a rather strange production. It obviously suffers from a very low budget resulting in some awkward moments of corner cutting, and actors who - apart from Valentine Dyall who for his part was more of a popular voice of the deep, smooth and smug type than a popular actor - are clearly inexperienced and stiff; actually, I suspect some of the guests in the framing story were actually afraid of the camera. The film's shortness of only 49 minutes suggests a typical second feature, while the dark, scratchy and jumpy state (curiously with comparatively excellent sound, though) of the print available makes clear nobody connected with it found any interest or merit in the thing.

Which is a bit of a shame, for while much of the film is awkward (cutting to black to avoid repetition? Really?), there are also some quite interesting spooky moments on display. These moments look a bit as if they had been taken right out of a silent movie, with Dutch angles, deep shadows and simple effects work that must already have looked quaint in 1947 after Universal's classic films, Val Lewton's horror productions, the film noir cycle and others in the US had demonstrated how to take the achievements and techniques of the expressionist silent movies and make something all new out of them. In comparison, director Denis Kavanagh's work here looks not just outmoded but stunted because he seems just about able to copy the techniques of films made twenty to thirty years before but nothing more. Still, these scenes have a certain charm, and are at least made with a decent eye for copying; though I just might be a sucker for certain ways of blocking a scene.

The Ghost also has the dubious honour of being a pioneer of that most horrible element of horror filmmaking, the nonsensical twist ending of the "wouldn't it be awesome if…" type, logical consistency be damned. It's nice to be a pioneer of something, I suppose.

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