Curiosity kills more than the cat, the old-timey saying proven irrelevant in the arms of The Red House. Curiosity kills people too, say those who wander into a secluded forest owned by Edward G. Robinson even after being warned to keep out.
Why he owns that property, and more so why the red house on said property is protected, drive this often drowsy mystery. With Robinson’s on-screen adopted daughter snooping around with her love interest, Red House takes its time to build dramatic tension. With friends, the teens wander into private lands in search of answers, Robinson unaware that the last thing you should do is to tell a kid not to do something.
The centerpiece of the film isn’t the forest, the home, or the hired gun who guards the forest seemingly without sleep. It’s Robinson, pouring on the rambling monologues about the horrors contained within, and slowly descending into a frail mental status. Breaking down as he comes closer to being forced into revealing his tragic past pushes this narrative ahead with force.
It’s the other material, namely the saucy romantic triangle with the kids that crumble the piece. Dialogue is stunted from a young Lon McCallister, even as his distrust for his employer grows. He’s pulled in to work on Robinson’s farm, and the romance comes across as a flimsy excuse to force him out of the scene. That way, the family dynamic is in play, while the sometimes repetitious warnings are dropped in the lap of the innocent daughter.
Gripes with the pacing not withstanding, Red House elevates itself with a panicked final 10-minutes, closing with grand fanfare and horrifying answers to its winding mystery. It’s one of those twists you wish you hadn’t heard. Red House offers a grand payoff for audience patience, certainly a finish worth the wait.
Shuffled into the public domain since the days of VHS, Film Chest Inc. marks the first company to resurrect this one from a sea of pitifully transferred products. The end result is undoubtedly a marked improvement, although that’s certainly not inherently difficult. Film Chest follows the path of their prior efforts such as The Stranger: Smooth it out, remove the grain, and brighten.
What left is well below par for Blu-ray classics, this slap dash effort offensive to the original material. It doesn’t respect the film stock, but instead tries to hide all traces of it. What’s left is inherently digital, tinkered with beyond acceptable standards. Pick and choose the methods that are most offensive to you personally and you couldn’t be wrong. All are equally damning.
Elements used are entirely unstable, stricken with a case of severe judder that begins with the opening logos. Red House will never appear established. Markers left over from damage removal become apparent at random intervals, a rock around halfway through smeared on the left half, crisp on the right. That must be an area of cover-up. The damage would have been less of an annoyance.
With the grain gone, faces appear flattened. The boost in contrast only exasperates the problems, turning characters unnaturally pasty and bright. On the other side, the black levels chomp on shadow detail as if it’s lunch, losing their appetite in a few scenes. What those shots lack in depth it makes up for by at least giving the appearance of being natural.
Mild smearing is noticeable during subtle motion, an artifact of the noise reduction process. That’s always a dead giveaway. The image will bleed too, characters walking in contrasting areas leaving vertical markers in their wake. Banding rears up within certain backgrounds, although it’s infrequent compared to the barrage of concerns brought up elsewhere.
Clean up to the audio has rendered it… legible. That’s saying something for a film long rendered aurally lost to static, pops, and wavering volume. While the flaws remain in some capacity, the DTS-HD 2.0 mono effort is almost free of underlying hiss. While the track will struggle with hearty, bright horn-like instruments (they’re lousy), dialogue carries little imperfection.
Balance is handled well, impressive considering the complexity of a nighttime sequence done outdoors in a storm. Robinson and McCallister have a verbal stand off, elements mixed with care and precision. Fidelity is maintained too, crucial during a creepy sequence to follow where screams and voices are mixed with the winds.
William Hare, author of Early Film Noir, provides his thoughts on the piece during a commentary track, the highlight of this brief section of bonus material. Film Chest’s usual comparison of the finished product to the “remastered” version again proves the original is superior. A trailer is offered too, and inside the case is a Red House post card, which now actually fits inside the Blu-ray case. That wasn’t so Kansas City Confidential or The Stranger. See, someone is listening after all.
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