Halloween Review – “The Haunted House (1921)”

This year’s Halloween reviews end up with a
three-parter in the style of the old drive-ins.
First, we’ve got a Buster Keaton short with The
Haunted House
, followed by a Hitchcock double
header. These aren’t really genre, but they’re so
well suited to Halloween that we’re running the
reviews anyway.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Buster Keaton as the Bank Clerk

Virginia Fox as the Bank President’s Daughter

Joe Roberts as the Bank Cashier

Edward F. Cline as the Customer in Bank

Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F.

Complete information is available from the

Buy from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca.
Note that those two links are to the single DVD for
, which also includes this and The
Frozen North
This DVD is also available in the Art of Buster
set, which can also be purchased from Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca.
(This is the release I own and recommend.) I should
mention to
Canadian customers that, even with international
shipping, Amazon.com
is cheaper than Amazon.ca right now.

Past movie reviews can be found here.


Buster gets caught up in a series of misunderstandings
that lands him
inside a haunted house. This is where his acrobatics
begin to truly

High Point

I’m most impressed with Buster when he’s been caught
by the coattails
inside the haunted house on the rotating floor.

Low Point

The “glue on the money” gag at the beginning runs a
little too long,
especially since it takes half the film (which is only
20 minutes
anyway) to get into the haunted house.

The Scores

This strikes me as being very original.
There are a number
of famous and well used gags used here that I haven’t
seen in any
earlier works. They may, in fact, have been used here
on screen for
the first time. A quick list of these includes:

  • stairs that flatten out to become a ramp,
  • counting money by listening to it as you flip
    through the billfold,
  • catching clothing on fire and not noticing at
    first, and
  • having a person under a sheet act like living
    furniture, which
    grabs the unsuspecting

as well as others that I don’t want to spoil for
those who
haven’t seen it. I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects are remarkably well done. This
is a 1921 short,
so the use of CGI or animation was totally out of the
Everything done here is done with live action and
physical effects.
There is one shot done by stopping the camera and then
restarting it,
but the rest were actually shot on the spot. There
are some very
impressive effects here, and some remarkable stunts.
There are some
very good reasons Jackie Chan has been compared to
Buster Keaton.
Both are great physical comedians who put their lives
at risk for
their art. As the haunted house isn’t actually
haunted (as revealed
in the first minute of film; that doesn’t really spoil
much), the
effects look exactly like they should. I give it 6
out of 6.

The story is sparse, but then, I can’t think
of any 20 minute
comedy short from the silent era that had a great
plot. This did have
failings that others didn’t have, though, such as the
lack of
explanation as to why Buster and the Daredevil troupe
actors all
decide that this particular house would make a good
hiding place. I
give it 3 out of 6.

The acting is the overdone stuff that we got
from the
theatre-to-film transition early this century. The
actors were funny,
but they didn’t really get into their roles that
deeply. I give it 3
out of 6.

The emotional response is wonderful. I
watched this twice in
two days, and still cracked up the second time.
Keaton was a master,
and I prefer what I’ve seen of his work to what I’ve
seen of
Chaplin’s. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production was well done, with only one
sequence that ran
too long. The colour tinting was an effective way to
show day and
night scenes in an era that didn’t allow for colour
film or recording
in dark conditions. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, this is a highly amusing short if
you’re just
looking for a non-cerebral laugh. I give it 5 out of

In total, The Haunted House (1921) receives
33 out of 42.