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Old Dark House Double Feature II: Secret of the Chateau (1934) and The Headless Ghost (1959)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Secret of the Chateau poster

Secret of the Chateau
Universal Studios, 1934
Directed by Richard Thorpe

Books — as in rare collectible ones — are the theme in this particular incarnation of the old dark house movie. Whose old dark house properties are a good bit more understated than some other movies in this genre (sub-genre?). It takes a while for all parties concerned to even get to the old dark house and when they do things play out more like a fairly standard murder mystery. But its close enough for government work, as the saying goes.

The book that’s causing all of the fuss is a Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever to be printed on a printing press. Needless to say, it’s somewhat valuable and high on the want list of a certain book thief.

Secret of the Chateau still

Fortunately, the strictest security precautions have been taken. The book is locked in a cabinet that has what’s touted as a state of the art security system. Which is a bell that goes off when the cabinet is breached. Before long the expected breach takes place and one of the party is found bereft of life. A fussy French detective turns up to sort things out and goodness and justice prevail again.

About the best I could say about this one was that it was serviceable. It wasn’t bad enough to be bad/good, and it wasn’t good enough to be good/good. I’d probably recommended it for completists only.

The Headless Ghost 1959-small

The Headless Ghost
AIP, 1959
Directed by Peter Graham Scott

Until I pulled up their Wikipedia entry I hadn’t realized how many movies American International Pictures (AIP) turned (churned?) out over the years — most notably in the Fifties and Sixties. They tended to be very low budget affairs that would appeal to the drive-in crowd, with numerous entries that fell into the category of science fiction and horror.

You can get an idea of some of the cinematic gems that AIP graced the world with by looking at their output for 1959, the year that The Headless Ghost was loosed upon the world. It was a busy year for the studio, one that saw such stellar fare as Paratroop Command, Operation Dames, Roadracers and Daddy-O, Tank Commandos, Horrors of the Black Museum, Diary of a High School Bride, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, Sheba and the Gladiator, A Bucket of Blood, Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Angry Red Planet, and Goliath and the Barbarians.

The Bat Mary Roberts Rinehart-smallYou could make the argument that the heyday of the old dark house movie was past by the time 1959 and The Headless Ghost rolled around.

But there was still some life on the old subgenre even then. It was a year that saw yet another adaption of The Bat, a 1920 Broadway play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood that spurred a flurry of old dark house imitators over the course of the next few decades.

The Bat boasted some star power, in the form of Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead. The Headless Ghost had no recognizable stars, that I’m aware of. It was released in the US on a double bill with Horrors of the Black Museum. It’s a tale of three students — two American lads and a Nordic beauty whose nationality I don’t recall.

After a tour group leaves an old haunted castle the trio stays behind, for kicks, and find themselves interacting with various ghosts, who commit the nifty trick of stepping out of paintings of themselves. Which is about all that’s nifty about this movie, of which the New York Times reviewer said, was “a pale and protracted bit of mis-cast whimsy.”

The plot of the thing, if you want to be generous with your terminology, is that several of the ghosts are working toward the goal of getting the headless ghost his head back and recruit the assistance of our young protagonists. But by the time you make it to the end of this relatively short movie you’ll probably find yourself not caring much.

See our first Old Dark House Double Feature, featuring The Ghost and the Guest (1943) and The Monster Walks (1932) here.


William I. Lengeman III’s last article for us was Star Trek Movie Rewatch: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He holds forth at www.wileng3.com.

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