It’s surprising that, before 1944, ghost stories were hardly a presence at all in feature films, and were overwhelmingly played for laughs when they did appear. The Uninvited’s cool, serious demeanor changed that almost singlehandedly, ushering a wave of ghost movies in the 40s. A brother and sister played by Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey get an extraordinarily good bargain on a windswept house overlooking a cliff—just the kind of thing to kick off any good ghost story.
That adult brother/sister dynamic (if it weren’t clearly spelled out, you’d fully believe them to be a married couple) is just one of the many deliberately disorienting touches in a film that’s full of them. A local young woman starts hanging around, believing that the weird occurrences at the house are signs that her mother is haunting the place, but it turns out her mother might have been had more going on with the woman who runs the local sanatorium (the queer subtext here being barely subtext at all). The result is genuinely haunting and full of atmosphere, one of the first being one of the best.
Where to stream: Digital rental