An unsuccessful sculptor saves a madman named "The Creeper" from drowning. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, he tricks the psycho into murdering his critics.
Going into House of Horrors, I had no idea it was not Rondo Hatton’s first or last time playing The Creeper. The character originated in The Pearl of Death (a Sherlock Holmes film). House of Horrors was later followed up by The Brute Man, which I had actually seen before on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Both House of Horrors and The Brute Man were released after Hatton’s death. These films were made on the tailcoats of Universal’s classic monster movies. The Creeper would have joined the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein himself if not for Hatton’s passing.
Hatton has a large screen presence in this film, namely due to his iconic face. Hollywood picked Hatton for this and other roles for a simple reason: he was ugly. Rondo Hatton was afflicted by the disease acromegaly, which causes the pituitary gland to produce too many growth hormones. He developed this condition while working as a journalist during World War I. One theory is that exposure to poison gas during the war caused his condition. Regardless, the effects of the illness enlarged his hands and feet and changed his face into the iconic Creeper. Sadly, this same disease also caused the heart attack that took his life at the age of 51.
House of Horrors features The Creeper on the run from the police, nearly drowned in a river. A struggling sculptor, Marcel De Lange, on the verge of suicide finds The Creeper and saves him. De Lange soon deduces The Creeper’s identity and manipulates his new “friend” into killing the critics who have kept customers off De Lange’s doorstep. But as the killings continue, a newspaper columnist and the police inch closer and closer to the truth.
This film is one of the best examples I have seen of horror noir. House of Horrors was made right in that period where classic monster movies had ended and classic noir detective stories were gaining popularity. While the movie does not 100% hit the mark, it is nonetheless a fantastic mix of these two sub-genres. Hatton had limited time to develop his skills as an actor, but his screen presence cannot be denied. There is a reason that now, over 70 years later, the name and face of Rondo Hatton are still known.