Dir: James Whale
Cast: Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Gloria Stuart, etc
SEE the original dysfunctional family! WITNESS the deranged brute and half-wit butler Morgan, crazed with lust and violence and filled with smouldering menace! FAINT with terror at the beautiful damsels in distress! HEAR
the creaking vocal cords of the man-child Sir Roderick, confined to his
bed and wrinkled beyond recognition, uttering cryptic, terrifying
warnings! LEAP with ICY FEAR at Saul, the most dangerous son, waiting in his room, twice-locked from the OUTSIDE, plotting, plotting....!
Yes folks, The Old Dark House
is one of my favourite films (I especially love to watch it near
Hallowe'en, on a rainy night), and presenting it as some kind of autumnal carnival
sideshow attraction is not altogether inappropriate. Weirdness abounds,
there's madness, mystery, murder, and romance. When they came up with
the old adage "they don't make 'em like they used to", they could very
well have been referring to The Old Dark House, which has many
surprisingly risque (and since much-copied) components for the era in
which it was made.
begin with three travellers (Raymond Massey's Philip Waverton, Melvyn
Douglas' Roger Penderel, and Gloria Stuart's Margaret Waverton) on a
dark and tres stormy night (natch) who eventually become completely
stranded by the storm, conveniently, at the steps of a decrepit mansion.
They expect to be welcomed into the home and perhaps be granted a
night's shelter there, but we know, as soon as the door opens a crack
and Karloff's heavily made-up, slashed and sneering brutish visage peers
out menacingly, that the travelling trio is in for the night of their
lives. Things get increasingly weirder as each Femm family member is
introduced - from Ernest Thesiger's wonderfully eccentric and nervous
Horace Femm, Eva Moore's selectively deaf, pickled onion-loving,
bible-thumping Rebecca Femm, to Elspeth Dudgeon's horribly eerie
androgynous invalid patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, and finally, to Brember
Wills' Saul; clever, insane, and born to kill.
are some virtuoso camera tricks that Whale employs - particularly in the
scene with Moore and Stuart in the bedchamber displaying the their distorted
features in the mirror, coming across as a twisted version of Alice in Acidland
played though the most warped of funhouse mirrors. Not to mention many
design and shot motifs carried over from Whale's previous film, you know, that one about the mad
scientist and the monster.
I can't even really put into
words how much I love this delightfully insane film. The template for
SO many films to follow, and certainly not those limited to the horror
The one, the only, The Old Dark House, is James Whale's masterpiece. Frankenstein
gets all the glory, but what we have here is a bona-fide CLASSIC, and a
film that I can safely say makes my top 20 films of all time. There
are a few clips from the film on YouTube, but I chose not to include any
here, as the film is really better served if viewed in its entirety.
Go. Watch it with some exceptional gin, and don't forget - have a potato.