The Spiral Staircase

Wicked Wednesday: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

My parents instilled a great love for classic movies in me. My dad Hitchcock, and my mom the classic musicals and dance numbers of Fred Astaire.

Somehow, in this post-world war film, we manage to merge both things.

The Spiral Staircase is a classic of gothic film. It’s beautiful in its dark candle-lit scenes and period costumes. But even more interesting is it’s fantastic imagery that verges on experimental.

The story is one done many times since: Helen, a selective-mute woman must defend herself in a threatening world. When a crazed serial killer goes after women with “afflictions”, she appears to be next.

Much of the film’s plot revolves around men telling her what to do. Leave the house, don’t leave the house. But many have their own motives. The elderly woman she cares for seems to know more information than she’s unwilling to share with Helen.

The story weaves in and out of dream sequences (including a beautiful dance number) and sinister visuals of close-ups of eyes and people lurking in shadows. It’s slightly jarring, but is a great way of seeing into Helen’s psyche: isolated, threatened, and yet dreaming of having a perfectly lovely life.

The mystery unfolds beautifully, and though slightly-predictable, is still thrilling to watch.

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