The Old Dark House Film Details
Overview: Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate.
Tagline: More thrilling than “Dracula.” More mysterious than “Frankenstein.” The spookiest of them all.
Review: The Old Dark House is by far the least known of James Whale’s horror films, it was somewhat poorly received upon first release in 1932 and it quickly vanished from all screens large and small and was very much at risk of becoming a “lost film”. Fortunately thanks to Curtis Harrington, The Eastman House and the employee’s of a certain film vault in New York, that didn’t happen. The Old Dark House, as the title would have you believe is something of a spookhouse or haunted house film, but only there aren’t any spooks, specters or ghosts at all, just a bunch of old eccentric people; a family known as the Femm’s and their disfigured, mentally unbalanced brute of a butler, “Morgan” (played by Karloff). The Old Dark House may not be a true spookhouse film, but it certainly has the visuals and vibe of one. Let me give you a brief run down of what you can expect to see: lost and weary travelers, an unrelenting thunderstorm, an old dark house (now there’s a surprise), loud gales, lots of shadow play, diminutive pyro-maniacs, ancient invalids of indeterminate gender, roast beef and potatoes and many a vinegary personality. I find this old obscure film to be extremely intriguing and fascinating for several reasons and it absolutely drips with a certain creepy, storm-battered, wind-whipped, atmosphere – and that is something that all fans of horror should appreciate. A brief run-down of the plot goes as such: Three weary traveler’s are lost in a torrential rainstorm out in the wet and rainy wilds of Wales, after nearly getting their car stuck several times and avoiding a landslide by the slimmest of margins, they see lights a head – enter The Old Dark House. As they knock on the front door, a disfigured, though dapperly dressed, mute brute of a man comes to the door and immediately the eccentric characters from within the house begin to appear, first Karloff (Morgan, the butler), then Thesiger (Horace Femm), then some old bent-over, deaf and vinegary lady (Rebecca Femm, Horace’s sister) who’s not at all happy to have these unexpected visitors in her house. First some gin, then a rather opulent dinner, during which two more visitors appear out of the rain, a boisterous Englishmen and a amateur chorus-girl. But the most eccentric occupants of the house are yet to emerge, Horace Femm is the only one of them who has any degree social grace and is for the most part “normal”, because he HATES living in what is a very unwholesome house. The five travelers are up against, the storm, the dark (as the lights eventually do go out, thus it’s more like The Old “Dimmly-Lit” House) plus in addition to that, the unfortunate travelers are further menaced by a deranged and drunken Morgan and his old friend Saul; who turns out to be the battiest of them all – they keep this crazy little old man locked-up on the on top floor, otherwise he tends to be something of a homicidal arsonist. But because of the drunken idiot that is Morgan, Saul eventually does get loose and bad things happen. Saul (played by the little known Brember Wills) is one of the great old coots of cinema, he’s very short, bearded and balding, with dark shifty eyes, a mischievous crooked smile and a hilariously shrill laugh, a complete eccentric… among other things. Until the rain stops, it’s up to the travelers to survive whatever the Old Dark House throws at them, because that’s whats really holding them hostage, the rain – and it’s a constant presence until the end. The Old Dark House proves to be, very potently, a clinic of quirky characterizations, black humor, witty dialog, shadow play and a definite display of mastery in creating an overall pervasively foreboding atmosphere, throughout the dimly-lit corridors and confines of the unwholesome old dark house. The film is filled out with a great cast of about a 50/50 mix of American and British actors, several of which are true bonafied scene-stealers such as: Thesiger, Douglas, Karloff, Moore and Wills. I simply love the off-beat quirkiness that this film’s characters have in immense abundance, that combined with a constantly stormy atmosphere, this all makes for an extremely invigorating experience (you definitely want to watch this movie at night, that’s THE time to do so). As usual, James Whale’s stylish sense of direction is virtually flawless, as is the films casting; Whale always had a great intuition for picking the right people and this film is no exception. If I had any criticism’s for this movie, I gotta say I never did care much for the very last scene, as it contrasts too much with the rest of the movie and I find it a bit awkward and it’s an abrupt scene to end things on. One final detail (involving the sound department), one that very frequently colors the soundtrack of this film and adds greatly to it’s atmosphere – the wind. If your ears are even remotely attentive to what’s going on, you’ll quickly deduce that the wind you’re hearing isn’t real wind at all. Evidently in the early-30’s recording wind was still something of a technical issue, that had still yet to be resolved. So instead they used this particularly distinctive “fake wind” sound effect, that’s highly characteristic of that era. I don’t know how they made it, but it’s definitely man-made and I for one absolutely Love how it sounds. It was only used in movies made from around 1928 to about 1935 (the very next year The Invisible Man would also use the very same highly characteristic faux wind effect). The short time-period that this distinctive sound FX was used, several decades ago, certainly seems to make it something of a long-lost, dust-covered, Hollywood relic. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s a real pleasure to hear that vintage sound effect. Man-Made Faux Wind.
Country: United States
Duration: 72 min
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Also known as: Överraskade av natten,A Velha Casa Assombrada,Das Haus des Schreckens,Az öreg sötét ház,El caserón de las sombras,Старый страшный дом,The Old Dark House,魔の家（1932）,La casa lúgubre,La maison de la mort,La Maison de la Mort,In de macht van het monster,Stara mracna kuca,La maison grise,To spiti tou mystiriou,Titkok háza,A velha casa sombria,Das Haus des Grauens,Stara mračna kuća,Vleselijke begeerte,Stary mroczny dom,Il castello maledetto,Das alte finstere Haus,A Casa Sinistra,Une soirée étrange