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The Spiral Staircase

USA 1946
produced by
Dore Schary for RKO
directed by Robert Siodmak
starring Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood, Rhys Williams, James Bell, Erville Anderson
screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on the novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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A killer seems to be loose in town, only killing the disabled, which is bad news for Helen (Dorothy McGuire), since she is mute, due to a shock she had when she saw her parents burn to death in a fire when she was a child. Now Helen works as a private nurse for old, bed-ridden Mrs Warren (Ethel Barrymore), an eccentric and grumpy old woman who lets noone take care of her but Helen - but at the same time she beseeches Helen to leave her house for good and go far away ... and he even offers her doctor, Parry (Kent Smith), whom she knows is in love with Helen, money if he takes her away. Parry even agrees to the idea, though not for the money, and promises to pick her up later that day ...

In the meantime though, Mrs Warren's son Steve (Gordon Oliver) and her stepson Albert (George Brent) get into a fight over Albert's private secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), who has started an affair with Steve, much to Albert's dismay, while at the same time, maid Mrs Oates (Elsa Lanchester in a great performance) has drunken herself senseless with some stolen brandy, her husband (Rhys Williams) has been sent away to the next town to fetch some ether, and Mrs Warren's regular nurse Barker (Sara Allgood) has just been fired and left the house ... and all of a sudden the big house seems very empty to Helen ...

... especially when she finds Blanche's corpse in the cellar, and Steve, who seems to be behaving strangely when he arrives on the scene, seems to be having written murderer all over his face - but somehow Helen manages to lock Steve in the cellar ... bad idea, because only now it turns out that Albert is really the killer, and Steve would have been the only one who could have saved Helen. Albert chases Helen through the house, and Helen, being mute, can neither call the police or even scream for help. It isn't until Albert seems to have Helen cornered at the spiral staircase that Mrs Warren all of a sudden appears on top of the stairs and shoots him ... then she falls down the stairs. With maybe her last breath, she makes a confession. she always knew that one of her family had a predilection for killing the disabled, but for some reason she always thought it was her own son, Steve ...

With all the ordeal over, Helen has found her voice again and is now able to call for help ...


Robert Siodmak is often considered as one of the great (Hollywood) directors, but it has to be noted that his output over the years was remarkably uneven and especially the films he made after his return to Germany are hardly masterpieces.

That said however, The Spiral Staircase shows Siodmak at his best, a tense and suspenseful mix of psychothriller, horror and film noir that would eventually become one of the cornerstones of serial killer cinema and would - with its mix of pure shock, suspense, bizarre details and psychological subtext - have a great influence on the (sub)genre as such, especially on the Italian giallo and the slasher film of the late 1970's/early 80's.

A masterpiece.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD