The Spiral Staircase (1945)


Eugenics is a school of belief that through selective reproduction, humans should breed out the ‘imperfections’ in our genetics and create the optimal race, without undesirable traits such as bad eye sight, or disabilities, and mental illness.

The Nazi’s were big fans of this idea; being that they saw anyone without strong, healthy and decidedly Arian attributes, as flawed, repulsive, and unworthy of life itself. So you can see why Eugenics isn’t a good thing in any way, for one man’s perfection, is another’s racist dictatorship, and those aren’t the kind of hairs society should try and split.

I’ve touched on the fact perfection is a flawed ideal before, and Eugenics is playing directly into my musings by its mere existence, frankly.
Diversity in the human state is what separates us from being clones of one another, and to eradicate unique attributes based on someone else’s idea of a utopian society, has been proven time and time again to be unethical and heinous (because the Holocaust really was quite recent), and most importantly futile, for nature always finds a way to revert back to form, and rebelling against the grain is a basic instinct of our genetic make up.

It’s the ‘flaws’ in others that teach us patience, kindness, understanding and empathy. It’s our idiosyncrasies and quirks that make us attractive to a prospective mate or friend, and form our unique personalities as children and adults. Let’s face it, the things that you, as an individual are made of, will make some people detest you, others adore you, and the other 99% of the world’s population look right through you, and that is your life.

The last thing you need is some imperfect scientist trying to breed out the very characteristics that you love the most about others, because let’s face it, these are the things that make life a little more interesting, and certainly, bearable for all of us.

Living by the philosophies of Eugenics would have denied us great minds like Stephen Hawking (disabled), Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein ( both Jewish), great artists like Van Gogh (mental illness), great writers and poets such as Sylvia Plath (mental illness), Ernest Hemmingway (alcoholism, depression), great musicians like Ian Curtis (of Joy Division who was epileptic and suffered from mental illness), and the roots of all of your favourite rock bands who stole most of their sound from great black music, that derived itself from slave songs and African tribal music.
By all means try to cure illnesses and make peoples life on this planet better, but eradicating any sort of genetic threat such as a virus, or the common cold, would eliminate our need for immune systems, and our bodies ability to fight off infection, which in the long run, does not make for a strong, healthy race of animals, it makes for a weak, boring, drip of an existence that I can’t imagine wanting to be a part of.

Based on the novel by Ethel Lina White The Spiral Staircase is the story of a serial killer who is targeting those with some sort of mental or physical handicap. Our heroine Helen is a serving girl who has lived a life as a mute, brought about by a traumatic childhood incident, and has become the killer’s next target. Working in a creepy old mansion, with simmering tensions between the upstairs and downstairs, provides an excellent situation for which the killer to strike.

I’m not quite sure if it is the earliest, but it is certainly one of the first to use POV shots of the killer as a device. Atmospheric and sumptuously gothic, The Spiral Staircase is a beautiful feat of cinematic brilliance. A creeping horror thriller, using strong elements of noir, with an excellent ensemble of actors, brings the story to life in a way that is almost hypnotic in its subtlety. Dorothy Maguire is entrancing as the silent protagonist, giving real depth to the role, conveying her emotions with her expressive eyes, but Ethel Barrymore (yes, of that Barrymore dynasty), steals the show as the ailing lady of the house, and was rightly nominated for an Oscar for her role as supporting actress. The true star of the film though, is the sprawling, shadowy mansion, without which, the film would be without anchor, and being pivotal to them chilling climax.

The plot is clever, with modern elements that are relevant to this day, and its simplistic cinematic devices, such as creaking floorboards and flickering candles are still effective after all of this time. Thrilling and masterfully directed, The Spiral Staircase is a true classic of the genre, and will stand the test of time, long after the current CGI schlock jocks, have faded into obscurity.

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This entry was posted in 1940's horror, 40's horror, black and white horror, critique, fiction, film and media, Forties horror, horror, murder, opinion, pop culture, psychological horror, psychotic killer, Serial Killers, Twist ending, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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