Loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Oval Portrait opens in classic Gothic horror mode with a horse-drawn carriage drawing up to a storm-lashed antebellum house, the passengers—Mrs. Buckingham (Doris Buckinham) and her daughter Lisa (Wanda Hendrix)—arriving for the reading of a will. As the women approach the front door, Lisa sees a ghostly apparition of a lady in white, which vanishes before she can show her mother, who understandably dismisses the vision as a product of her daughter's overactive imagination. Once inside the house, the women meet housekeeper Mrs. Warren (Gisele MacKenzie), who shows them to their room.
During the night, Lisa wakes to the sound of music and goes downstairs, where she sees a man—who we later learn is named Joseph (Barry Coe)—playing the piano and talking to a woman called Rebecca. The next day, Lisa puts on a dress that she finds in a wardrobe, the sight of which sends Joseph into a hysterical state. In a prolonged flashback, Mrs. Warren explains the tragic story behind Joseph's strange behaviour: he was once a Confederate soldier in love with Rebecca, the daughter of a Union major, but as the couple were about to be wed in a secret ceremony, Joseph was arrested and taken away. On returning from the war, Rebecca's father discovered the truth about his daughter, who was pregnant with Joseph's baby, and threw her out of the house. When the war was over, Joseph returned to the house to find Rebecca dead, the young woman having fallen victim to a fatal illness.
Thus far, The Oval Portrait has been a pretty unremarkable Gothic tragedy with a narrative hampered by weak direction and sloppy editing (including gimmicky 'flickering' scene transitions that really grate). From here-on in, however, things get much more interesting
The flashback ends with a distraught Joseph digging up the corpse of his dead bride-to-be, after which the action switches to the present, with the reading of the will. Rebecca's spirit then possesses Lisa, and furniture and ornaments start to fly around the house. Lisa runs upstairs where she discovers Rebecca's corpse hidden in a wardrobe. And the craziness doesn't end there: the next evening, after most of the visitors have left, Joseph sneaks back into the house for one last dance with Rebecca. While he's waltzing round the room with his putrid partner, Mrs. Warren gets out of bed, investigates, and sees Joseph kissing the crumbly cadaver (which makes one wonder what else he's been doing with it). Clearly well off his rocker, the man approaches the housekeeper, who pulls a gun and fills him full of lead, finally allowing him to be united with Rebecca in death.
Director Rogelio A. González's handling of matters is just as shambolic as before, but the madness is far more entertaining—after all, there's nothing like a spot of necrophilia to pep up an otherwise mediocre movie.
4.5 out of 10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.