As Universal creaked into the early 50s, they were taking giant strides towards a new sub-genre sparked by the space race that was capturing the Nation’s zeitgeist. The creatures that the production house had built its name upon had now shifted into more comedic terrain with Abbott and Costello. There was still some room for gothic horror though and The Strange Door based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel, The Sire de Maletroit’s Door would pit veterans Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff alongside one another in a last ditch effort to draw the crowds.
The premise is a slight tale about revenge, mischaracterisation and ultimately love in the face of adversity and is presented more as a melodrama than horror. Laughton also does his best to chew up the scenery and lapping up every moment as Alain de Maletroit, s msn consumed by grief and jealousy over the death of his brother Edmund’s wife. Alain imprisons Edmund (Paul Cavanagh) and raises his niece, Bianche (Sally Forrest) as though she were his child. This is through some warped connection to his sister-in -law that he longs to hold onto.
Everything is a whim or a game for Alain though, spoilt by his riches and living the life of a megalomaniac, content in ruining the lives of others to please his cruel desires.
Part of his trickery involves ensnaring a wayward thief, Denis (Richard Stapley) and convince him to marry Bianche, and then arrange for him to be murdered on the eve of their wdding night. True to the machiavellian style that the film is modelled on however, Alain doesn’t account for Denis and Bianche to actually fall in love. Nor does he foresee that his longtime dogsbody Voltan (Karloff) would have a change of heart and join focus with the lovebound duo in freeing the imprisoned Edmond and foil Alain’s plans.
While The Strange Door was well received at the time, upon recent viewing, you can’t help but notice that it is missing that special je ne sais quoi that was reminiscent in their earlier movies despite having stellar performers in Laughton and Karloff in the cast.
- Saul Muerte