The House In The Woods (1957) review

the-house-in-the-woods-posterDirector: Maxwell Munden

Starring: Michael Gough, Patricia Roc, Ronald Howard

CAROL: “Spencer’s a lonely man I feel I can help, even if it’s only by letting him paint me. I don’t think I’m able to help my husband no matter how hard I try.”

MICHAEL: “I’m sorry darling. But you see, sometimes a man can sense an inner corruption in another man that is hidden from a woman by sentiment and sex.”

CAROL: “Inner corruption in another man! How do you know you’re not fighting it in yourself?”

Michael Gough was a legendary English actor who appeared in over 200 film roles over the course of nearly 60 years.

Perhaps best known to modern and international audiences as Alfred in all four 1990s Batman films, Gough had been a star of British stage and screen for decades before this.

The House In The Woods is one of his earlier roles, and though it’s more or less been forgotten over time it’s still a decent example of his ability to drive a film with his performance.

"Darling, do I have any flies in my teeth? This convertible automobile turns my mouth into a fucking Bushtucker Challenge"
“Darling, do I have any flies in my teeth? I know it’s a frightfully odd query but it’s just that this convertible automobile turns my mouth into a fucking Bushtucker Trial”

Gough plays Geoffrey Carter, a novelist who’s suffering from writer’s block. I KNOW THE FEELING MATE LOLZ ETC.

Geoffrey’s struggling to write his latest novel, and the constant partying from his prick neighbours – who keep barging into their house and asking them to join in the frivolities – isn’t helping much.

“Let’s leave this fucker,” Geoffrey says to his wife Carol. “These noisy dicks are doing my beautifully shaped head in.”

(Granted, he doesn’t use those exact words but the sentiment is there.)

Noticing an ad in the paper for a house in the middle of nowhere, Geoffrey convinces his wife that they should leave their noisy London flat behind and rent out the house so he can get some peace and quiet to finish his book.

When they get to the house they meet its owner, Spencer. He’s an eccentric chap who’s been living on his own, painting and listening to old records, ever since his wife died. He’s a tragic hipster, basically.

"Trust me, I'm wearing vintage. You just won't realise it for another 60 years"
“Trust me, I’m wearing vintage. You just won’t realise it for another 60 years”

Spencer’s renting the house out because he’s going off travelling (no doubt to follow Mumford & Sons on their world tour), but he isn’t leaving for another week. However, since Geoffrey and Carol get along with him so well he invites them to move in early and stay as his guests until he moves out.

They agree (obviously, since there’d be no film otherwise), but before long Geoffrey starts to get suspicious about their reclusive host.

If his wife really died a long time ago, how come she’s written a dedication to him in a book and dated it recently?

Why is Spencer obsessed with painting Carol? And why is he so insistent that the couple don’t venture too far into the woods?

"Darling, he's glued my hands to the banister. I think you might be right about him"
“Darling, he’s glued my hands to the banister. I think you might be right about him”

Let’s face it, you can probably work out at least part of the plot already based on what I’ve given you, so it’s safe to say The House In The Woods isn’t exactly the sort of thriller that hinges on a bombshell plot twist.

It threatens to become more interesting than it is. One subplot involves Geoffrey’s book and his realisation that the story he’s writing is actually playing out in front of them. Intriguing, no?

Well, no. What could have become some interesting paranormal twist ultimately ends up being little more than coincidence, and Geoffrey merely uses his book’s plot as basis for his theory on what Spencer is up to.

The performances are solid: Gough is brilliant as the constantly suspicious Geoffrey and his face tells a million words in every scene. His wife is ably played by Patricia Roc, her cheery naivety of the situation and her willingness to trust Spencer is endearing.

"You know, these 50s movies don't accurately depict the bedroom activity of married couples." "Shut up and keep your knickers on, love"
“You know, these 1950s movies don’t accurately depict the bedroom activity of married couples.” “Shut up and keep your knickers on, love”

And then there’s Spencer himself, played by Ronald Howard. He nails the role of the mysterious charmer who seems too good to be true, though it all turns a bit hammy once it emerges that he is.

Ultimately, The House In The Woods is a film that seems best suited to a play rather than a film. The majority of the movie takes place in a couple of rooms, and it’s driven almost entirely by dialogue (no bad thing, of course. Just saying).

It’s an enjoyable enough little mystery, though that’s more because of the performances of the trio involved rather than the actual plot and the relatively weak revelation at the end.


The House In The Woods is available on DVD courtesy of Network’s ‘The British Film’ series. The picture quality is superb given the film’s age and relative obscurity, but as Network itself concedes the sound quality has suffered badly over the years.


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