THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
This great, spooky, old-fashioned, ‘haunted’ house thriller from the legendary James Whale has a simple plot and a great cast that works together like a charm. Three people (Raymond Massey, Melvyn Douglas and Gloria Stewart) driving through the Welsh countryside, become trapped in a fierce storm and are forced to take refuge in an old stone mansion populated by the very strange and eccentric Femm family. The Femms, Horace (Ernest Thesiger) and sister Rebecca (Eva Moore) reluctantly take them in for the night along with another couple (Charles Laughton and Lillian Bond). But even more frightening then the raging storm outside, is their brutish, mute butler Morgan (Boris Karloff) and Horace’s fear over what might happen should deranged brother Saul (Brember Willis) escape his room during the deluge and resulting power outage. Now the weary travelers have become trapped between the horrific downpour outside and the lurking dangers within the old dark house.
Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein) from a script by R.C. Sherriff, Benn W. Levy and J.B. Priestly…from Priestly’s book…this flick is loaded with atmosphere and the kind of stark mood-building visuals that Whale is famous for and brought to life by Arthur Edeson’s cinematography. There are a lot of chills and thrills, yet not without a sly sense of humor and it all comes in a tight and entertaining 71 minute running time with a wonderfully moody score by Bernhard Kaun. The sets both in and around the castle-like house also add much to the atmosphere as does some expert model work to portray the storm and flooding and the damage it causes.
The film has a stellar cast who all have a good time with their roles including genre greats Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton and Raymond Massey. The cast really help to add atmosphere to the proceedings especially Thesiger, Moore and Karloff as the main occupants of the house though Willis makes a really creepy Saul, once we meet him and the interesting casting of actress Elspeth Dudgeon as the family’s 102 year old patriarch, Roderick. The rest all give us some very likable characters to fear for once the lights go out and the quaint evening out of the rain becomes a nightmare.
House is a charming and spooky fun time the likes of which they don’t make anymore. A great old black and white movie loaded with atmosphere. The Old Dark House was originally part of the famous Universal horror films series, but Uni sold the rights for an awful remake in the 60s. The film languished in limbo till rescued by fans…including filmmaker Curtis Harrington, a friend of Whales…and released on DVD. One of my all time favorites and there is simply no better film to watch on a stormy night, especially in the Fall when Halloween grows near.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The actress who plays the wife of Massey’s Philip, Gloria Stuart, is the same Gloria Stuart who played Kate Winslet’s character as an old woman in the hit film Titanic!
4 classic Karloffs.
I couldn’t find a trailer so this clip will have to do…
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