House of Horrors (1946)

The work of starving artist Marcel De Lange is misunderstood by the art community. After being personally and professionally insulted in his own home, De Lange turns critic slayer, utilizing a unique weapon.HoH2

Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck) is a sculptor, whose statues of human figures could be classified in the avant-garde Modernism style. By candlelight, he has a discussion with his cat, Pietro, about his pitiful finances and meager dinner of bread and cheese, borrowed from a neighbor. All that’s about to change, however, as a patron is expected that evening to purchase a piece for $1,000. The man arrives, having brought highly esteemed art critic Holmes Harmon (Alan Napier of Batman fame) along for his opinion. Harmon is the epitome of a haughty, elitist snob who, with no sign of compunction, disparages both the artist and his work. “Tripe!” he scornfully sniffs. “A work of lunacy.” Marcel, understandably enraged, drives them out by brandishing a very large knife, then smashes the sculpture with a mallet. HoH1Walking the docks, about to commit suicide, Marcel spies a man pulling himself from the river. He rushes down to help, and upon seeing the man’s unusual visage, declares it magnificent. Marcel takes the man (Rondo Hatton) home and asks him to model for a new piece that’s going to set the art world on fire. Sure, the brutish looking man replies. After a day of work, Marcel turns in for the night, while his muse heads out and murders a streetwalker he saw passing by. The police wonder if it could be the work of the Creeper, a serial killer who strangles his victims, then snaps their spines. He should be dead (per a previous movie), but his body was never found.

Next evening, Marcel reads about the murder in the paper, then bitches about critic Harmon. The Creeper decides to pay him a visit.

Meanwhile, another art critic, Joan Medford (Virginia Grey), stops at Harmon’s office to discuss another artist, her boyfriend, Steve Morrow (Robert Lowery) whom pompous Harmon also disparages (Morrow paints “cheesecake” commercial art). Once Joan leaves, the Creeper creeps and it’s lights out for Harmon. The cops suspect Morrow, since his recent show was panned by the deceased and Harmon was at work on another piece blasting the artist.

Joan pays a visit to Marcel, who won’t allow her to see his work-in-progress. When he leaves the room to get some wine, she sneaks a peek at the bust, which is witnessed by the model, who’s hiding in another part of the room.

On the investigation front, the lead detective, Brooks (Bill Goodwin), decides to set a trap using another art critic, who bashes Morrow and compares him to lunatic, talent-deficient sculptor De Lange. The sting works, luring Morrow to the critic’s apartment, but Marcel has also read the column, and the Creeper does his thing.HoH5When Joan pays another visit to Marcel looking for content for her next column, she swipes his reference sketch, witnessed again by the Creeper. When Marcel learns Joan stole his sketch…well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This is another brisk, 65 minute effort put out by Universal. It’s not a horror movie, but more of a mystery-crime flick with noir touches (there’s some nice shadow work in a couple of scenes) and some occasional second-tier snappy dialogue. Rondo Hatton (who suffered from acromegaly, causing disfigurement of the face and hands) wasn’t really an actor, but as the Creeper, he’s a man of very few words and it works well in the context of this story. The rest of the cast put in serviceable performances, although Virginia Grey’s Joan is a bit of a poor man’s Rosalind Russell or Eve Arden. Alan Napier, as snooty critic Harmon, is fun to watch, while Martin Kosleck, as the struggling Marcel De Lange is the real draw. The opening scene, Marcel’s monologue to his cat, creates sympathy for the character. You feel for the guy, and see he’s a decent man, taking in a stranger who has given him a new lease on life (Marcel tells the Creeper as much, explaining he was about to suicide and thanking him for saving his life and inspiring his new project).

Marcel is a little guy, literally and figuratively, pushed around by others, even Joan calls him “little man” once or twice. He feels powerless, but with his new, large and strong friend, he feels empowered.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pietro, Marcel’s cat, the best feline actor I’ve seen on film. He was Marcel’s friend, confidant, and ever-faithful companion (by the end of the movie you’ll know what I mean).

This is by no means a great movie, but it’s competently made and breezes along, although I think it’s a must-see for Kosleck fans. On a scale of 1 – 10, I objectively give it a 6.5, but as a personal favorite, I rate it about an 8.5. Fun stuff.

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