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THE STRANGE DOOR
DVD region 0. Odeon

The Strange DoorThe Universal horror cycle that began at the start of the 1930’s was generally held to be over by the end of the Forties, and so 1951 film The Strange Door has often been overlooked by fans – a situation not helped by the fact that this film has no supernatural elements. Yet to ignore this movie is a shame, as it’s actually one of the better made and more interesting of the Universal horrors.

The Strange DoorBased on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Sire de Maletroit's Door, the film opens with wealthy lecherous layabout Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley) apparently murdering a man during a drunken brawl. Fleeing, he finds himself hiding out in the home of the Sire de Maletroit (Charles Laughton), where he quickly discovers that he has been framed and tricked into coming here. He’s trapped in a house with only one exterior door – a door without an inside handle. Maletroit plans to force him to marry his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest), who is also a prisoner and is being made to suffer as punishment for her mother marrying Maletroit’s brother, who she believes to be dead. In fact, he is also a prisoner, kept locked up in a dungeon and guarded by loyal servant Voltran (Boris Karloff).

This gothic melodrama has many admirable qualities. Laughton is head and shoulders above most of the stars found in Universal’s horror film, one moment charming, the next cruel and ruthless, with a pettiness and cowardly nature never far from the surface. Stapely effectively manages to evolve from being an arrogant fop to a solid hero, and Karloff is excellent too in one of his more sympathetic roles.

It’s more than likely that this is a classic horror that you’ve missed. If so, the DVD release is a good chance to correct that oversight.

DAVID FLINT

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