A dark, gothic, one-of-a-kind macabre comedy. Directed by James Whale, subject of the acclaimed "Gods and Monsters," "The Old Dark House" tells the story of three weary travelers who find shelter in a mysterious Welsh mano... more »r, soon find themselves in the unwelcoming company of the psychotic Femm family--and never will they be the same!« less
"Not only is there an OLD DARK HOUSE, there's also a dark and stormy night outside said house, a heavy rain that causes mud slides and has turned the roads into quagmires. It's so bad that travelers Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) and Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart) swallow their fears (how would YOU like it if your knock at the door of a scary old house was answered by Boris Karloff?) and seek refuge there. They are followed soon enough by portly and high-spirited Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and fiery young Gladys DuCane (Lilian Bond). Nobody in their right mind would consider spending a night in the spooky old place unless forced by the sharpest contingency. Nobody in their right mind, we soon learn, inhabits the house, either. It's the residence of the Femm family, aged siblings Horace and Rebecca (Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore) and a brace of unseen, but not unheard, relatives locked in upper story rooms. Boris Karloff plays Morgan, a butler or sib (never explained either way), who's scarier than all get out. THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a horror movie, of sorts. It doesn't indulge in splatter-gore or supernatural head-twisting to shock and thrill. Rather, it relies on high shadows and sardonic dialogue, strange characters and menacing situations. The movie contains no character stranger than Karloff's Morgan, a hulking mute brute glowering from behind a bolshie beard and a few deep and delicately placed scars painted in by Universal make-up genius Jack Pierce. Morgan develops an overarching attraction to pretty young Margaret Waverton. Director James Whale makes Margaret undergo the only costume change in the film, a move that accomplishes a number of things. Undressing down to her slip, Margaret is at once sexualized and made vulnerable. It gives deaf old Rebecca Femm the opportunity to deliver lines at once darkly comic, sardonic, and deeply disturbing. As Gloria Stuart, who recently played the 100-year-old survivor in TITANTIC, tells us on the easy and informal commentary track, Whale wanted her to appear a `flaming dagger' when Karloff chased her about the dark mansion, hence the pink Jean Harlow-ish silk gown. Rebecca Femm, fondling the gown's silk, declares "Fine stuff, but it'll rot." Touching the young woman's skin beneath the gown, she says "Finer stuff still, but it'll rot, too!" Whale intercuts the scene with images of Margaret and Rebecca and Margaret looking at herself in an old and distorting mirror. It's a brilliant sequence, transcending and enhancing the horror simultaneously. THE OLD DARK HOUSE is filled with twisted, dark comedy and grand performances. Whale, of course, had earlier directed Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, and would work yet again with him in a few years on THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Thesiger would join them as the demented Dr. Pretorius. If you've seen that movie and enjoyed its singular brand of humor, you'll enjoy THE OLD DARK HOUSE as well. HOUSE lacks BRIDE'S humanity, there are no noble monsters in this one, but its comedy is more finely honed and definitely of a darker hue. And the ensemble cast is as good as it gets. I loved this movie. Included on the Image dvd is Gloria Stuart's informal and personal commentary, a nine-minute stills gallery (button free, it runs on its own) and an eight minute interview with director Curtis Harrington, who was a friend of Whale's and the man most responsible for preserving, and restoring, THE OLD DARK HOUSE as it lay mouldering in the Universal vaults in the 1960s. "
It was a Dark and Stormy Night ...
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 09/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director James Whale deftly combined dry, sardonic humor with classic horror elements to produce the richly entertaining black comedy "The Old Dark House". By turns darkly witty and genuinely creepy, the film benefits from a razor-sharp script, moody cinematography, and uniformly fine performances in addition to Whale's creative directorial flourishes. Simply summarized, the plot involves a group of stranded travelers who take refuge in an isolated Welsh mansion owned by a dangerously eccentric family during a terrific storm; before the night passes, members of the group will encounter terror, romance and even death as the thunder, wind and rain rage outside.
Among a distinguished cast that includes such luminaries as Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, and Gloria Stuart, the acting honors are stolen by Ernest Thesiger playing the pinch-faced, hollow-eyed lord of the manor. Thesiger manages the difficult task of being very funny and vaguely menacing at the same time; in his first scene he introduces himself in a sepulchral but prissy tone as, "Femm ... Horace Femm", and the effect is both marvelously silly and discomfortingly shivery. Eva Moore also makes a distinctive impression in the role of Thesiger's sharp-tongued sister whose begrudging hospitality to her guests does not include "beds ... they can't have beds!" She is particularly ominous as she fingers the fabric of Gloria Stuart's low cut evening gown, noting "fine stuff, but it'll rot", and then proceeds to put her hand on the exposed flesh above Stuart's chest, adding "finer stuff still, but it'll rot too!"
The Kino DVD offers a beautiful video transfer of this film which was once considered lost. After the film's negative was discovered moldering in a vault, and then painstakingly restored, a copy was shown a very few times on pay cable TV channels back in the early 1990's; unfortunately, that print was so dark that the movie was virtually unwatchable. The Kino version features correctly balanced contrast and a clearer, crisper soundtrack. As far as extras go, there is a wonderful photo gallery; excerpts of an interview with Curtis Harrington, a long-time acquaintance of James Whale who initiated the long search for the film's missing negative; and a commentary by film historian James Curtis. Best of all is a second audio commentary by actress Gloria Stuart who with great intelligence and charm reveals fascinating tidbits about the film's production, the other cast members, and the shooting of individual scenes, as well as general stories about Hollywood and her own career.
The 1962 Hammer remake of the same title, directed by William Castle, bears very few similarities with Whale's production; Castle's version is almost devoid of horror and emphasizes broad comedy which sometimes veers into the realm of slapstick. Both are entertaining films in their own ways, but I personally prefer Whale's original and heartily recommend that you add it to your home DVD library. "
Have A Potato !
E. Parsons | 06/25/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Out of the four classic 'horror' films James Whale directed for Universal ('Frankenstein', 'The Invisble Man', and 'Bride of Frankenstein' being the others) this movie is certainly the odd one out. There are no monsters and no mad scientists, just a collection of extremely strange characters. For once Boris Karloff is upstaged not by one, but two of his fellow cast members. Ernest Thesiger gives a wonderfully weird performance throughout and larger than life Charles Laughton dominates every scene he appears in. Because of the lack of any 'monster' and the fact that virtually the whole film takes place inside the house, it is the dialogue and characters that make this film so truly memorable. If you've heard that 'The Old Dark House' was a 'lost' film then you needn't worry about picture or sound quality. The film's restoration work has produced a very good quality print. Unusually for me, I watched this film 3 or 4 times within a week of receiving it, not least because of the great commentaries provided by James Curtis and especially Gloria Stuart. 'The Old Dark House' certainly demands multiple viewings, which is the best praise I can give it."
The classic spookhouse with things that go bump in the night
J. Michael Click | 03/16/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Forget all those modern "wannabe" horror films that cut the suspense and story for buckets of blood and guts. "The Old Dark House" (1932) is a terrific film, set in the ever popular haunted house on a dark, spooky rainy night. Horace and Rebecca Femm, brother and sister, are the owners of a drab mansion. However, they definitely do not play the good natured hosts when stranded travellers are forced to stay there because of the terrible storm. Ernest Thesiger gave a terrific performance as the pessimistic Horace Femm, who constantly worries about the worst that could happen. Fans of Charles Laughton might be surprised to see him playing an arrogant loud mouth that only believes in making money in order to "smash people". Frightening as ever, Boris Karloff gives a tense portrayal of Morgan, the frequently inebriated butler who is described by the Femm family as "an uncivilized brute" and "a savage". Like most horror films of this era, "The Old Dark House" has a devious surprise appearance of something which is only slightly hinted at during the film, and finally comes out in the open towards the end. I thought this film was very well written and performed, quite unlike the scary films of today that spend more money for the gore."
AN ORIGINAL, ECCENTRIC FILM
scotsladdie | 11/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Based upon the novel BENIGHTED by J.B. Priestly, THE OLD DARK HOUSE characteristically begins in the midst of a raging thunderstorm as a lone automobile, lost in the Welsh mountains, tries to make its way through the primitive dirt roads. Inside are a bickering, nerve-wracked young couple, Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria (TITANIC) Stuart) and their war-disillusioned friend, Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas). Deciding it is too dangerous to continue, the trio arrive at an imposing stone house, the only shelter in sight......................A thoroughly delightful diversion in the comic/horror genre, this film is a largely (and unjustly) forgotten gem. The movie is perhaps an acquired taste, but its a film that grows in stature with each viewing. This classic flick from the depressed year of 1932 boasts a gallery of memorable performances, even though Laughton is a bit overripe even by his standards! Ernest Thesiger steals the film as the sniffish, craven Horace Femm; he is nothing short of the ideal materialistion of the Priestly character. As Morgan, Karloff makes a surprisingly brief appearance, and, wisely, there was no attempt to beef up his rather uninteresting stock brute character. Raymond Massey is merely competent as Waverton, while the great Melvyn Douglas does good work in his role as the acerbic, world-weary Roger Penderel. For the role of Sir Roderick, the ancient partriarch of the Femm clan, Whale took a gamble by casting a veteran British stage actress, Elspeth Dudgeon (her name was changed to John in the credits!); the gamble was victorious. Unbelievably, Elspeth made her last film in 1949!........ The film's wit is so dry and so gently self-mocking, that a casual viewer might easily laugh the dialogue off as being ridiculous; this input was courtesy of screenwriter Benn W. Levy."