Poor Marcel. Nobody has it worse than a starving artist for it is not only their body that starves, but their soul. At least so Marcel would have you believe, and after he fails to make a sale due to an art critic that would have seen him flush for a little while, the man decides that the world would probably be better off without him in it. But, as the fates would have it, Marcel’s plans change when he rescues another man from the water, one with brutish features whom he will use as inspiration for his greatest creation. As the two become friends, Marcel complains about the critic who ruined him and soon others as well for when he does so, Marcel realizes that his new friend, known only as The Creeper, is out killing those that stand in his way.
When Universal released House of Horrors, it was famous for one thing more than anything else and that was star Rondo Hatton. He himself was famous not necessarily for his acting ability, which seemed fairly limited, but his looks, which exaggerated by a disease, made him the perfect candidate to play all sorts of beastly monsters. Here in this film, it was the Creeper, a man without any other name and with few lines to say, and who was essentially just a simple killing machine. He ate, he sat and he killed. Fairly simplistic as far as villains go, but effective nonetheless as the atmosphere and the mood of the picture was as creepy as many of Universal’s outings during the time period. It would have been nice to see if Hatton could have done something else on-screen, as most of the roles he would ever play were of a similar vein, but as he was obviously not the leading man type of person, he was pigeon-holed into what most thought he could do best.
Marcel would be played by Martin Kosleck, a man who is a good person deep down but is corrupted by the newfound power he has come into, namely his friendship with the Creeper. That theme of power than extends to Alan Napier’s character, a critic named Harmon who gets joy out of destroying the lives of others and then to Bill Goodwin as Lt. Larry Brooks who aims to solve the case no matter what it takes. Aside from Kosleck and Hatton, Virginia Grey would brighten up the film with her animated presence, not to mention good looks and be the leading lady as well as the damsel in distress. As Joan Medford, it was nice to see Grey’s character be such a strong one as women in horror movies were not often used for much other than fodder. That is not to say there were no other strong female characters in horror films, far be it, but more often than not, they were there simply to provide eye candy as well as being the plot device to bring whatever monster, creature or villain together with the hero of said picture. Here, Grey’s character was a take charge, second-to-none woman and it was great to see.
Running just over an hour in length, the film though short, was to the point and quite absorbing as it was fairly hard to peel your eyes from the screen. Director Jean Yarbrough would create a very compelling film from George Bricker’s screenplay and in true Universal style; it was very moody and quite thrilling. What was truly exceptional about Universal during this time period was the fact that B pictures such as this one, could often pass as those made with bigger budgets and were in fact, oftentimes better. House of Horrors is a wonderful little horror film definitely worth seeking out if you have the time and inclination.