Ruth Bennett (Barbara Stanwyck) and her niece Sara (Kitty Winn) are moving into an old house recently inherited by Ruth. Ruth has decided to take a break from her job in Washington, D. C. to decide whether she wants to move into the house permanently, leaving the city behind. Sara will be attending classes at the local university.
Both women are excited about the house when they arrive, but as they spend more time there, strange things begin happening. With the help of professor Pat McDougal (Richard Egan) and one of his students, Stan (Michael Anderson, Jr.), Ruth and Sara seek to get to the bottom of the house’s history and Revolutionary War-era mysteries.
The House That Would Not Die was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. The teleplay was written by Henry Farrell from the novel Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels.
This is pretty standard haunted house fare. Moving day at the historic old house goes off without a hitch, and it’s all fine and dandy at first, but then come the nightmares… and the disembodied voices… and the paintings flying off of the walls!
Stanwyck is as wonderful as ever as Ruth. She takes her role seriously and serves as the anchor of the film, drawing the viewer into every scene and giving the drama a sense of realism, despite its supernatural tendencies.
As a made-for-TV horror flick, The House That Would Not Die could have so easily gone cheesy, but Stanwyck and her castmates don’t let it! Kitty Winn does well in her role, seeming genuinely disturbed and possessed in the scenes following the seance. She’s great at differentiating between “normal” Sara and “haunted” Sara, adding to the film’s creep factor. Richard Egan also brings a few chilling moments later on.
There is also some genuine tension, like that wonderful seance scene, and a later scene in which the group discovers a hidden cellar beneath the house. “Maybe we shouldn’t have a seance in this house after all,” Ruth says after odd things begin happening around the house, but of course she goes through with it anyway, bringing trouble!
There’s an interesting push-pull throughout the film between the supernatural and the psychological, as Ruth, Stan, and Pat try to figure out how to help Sara. There are some very fun, sleuthy scenes of Ruth and the gang snooping through books and letters from the house’s attic for clues. Pat takes a logical approach and studies Sara for signs of mental illness, while Stan is sure the house and its ghosts are at fault.
It’s predictable but fun spookiness, with an interesting historical element given the Revolutionary War connections of the house’s haunting. This would be the perfect film to watch with a few friends, late at night, with all of the lights off. I didn’t expect to find any new favorites among Stanwyck’s late-career TV movies, but this is definitely one I’ll watch again!