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Seeking shelter from a pounding rainstorm in a remote region of Wales, several travellers are admitted to a gloomy, foreboding mansion belonging to the extremely strange Femm family. Trying to make the best of it, the guests must deal with their sepulchral host, Horace Femm and his obsessive, malevolent sister Rebecca. Things get worse as the brutish manservant Morgan gets drunk, runs amuck and releases the long pent-up brother Saul, a psychotic pyromaniac who gleefully tries to destroy the residence by setting it on fire. Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After the introductory credits there is a 'producer's note' (but it comes before EVERYTHING, including the studio logo, on the version shown by Turner Classic Movies): 'Karloff, the mad butler in this production, is the same Karloff who created the part of the mechanical monster in "Frankenstein". We explain this to settle all disputes in advance, even though such disputes are a tribute to his great versatility.' See more »
The Old Dark House is the least well known of James Whale's four horror pictures, but don't let that fool you, as this one is just as good as anything else Whale ever made. Despite being over seventy years old, The Old Dark House still holds the power to feel like it could have been released yesterday; much like the rest of Whale's horror movies, which are as fresh today as they were the day they were made. The plot follows three people that get caught in a storm and are forced to take refuge in the only place nearby - an old dark house. There, they encounter the house's strange inhabitants - a nearly deaf woman and a cowardly old man, along with their creepy butler (played by Boris Karloff), a scar faced drunk. More travellers turn up, and the film only gets more fun; introducing us to more strange characters, including a very weird old lady...with a beard, and something else, which is so horrible that the inhabitants are forced to keep it under lock and key
The Old Dark House is one of the first haunted house films ever made, and it works, primarily, for two reasons; the house itself and the cast of characters. Both of these entities are intriguing elements in their own right, and they combine to great effect. The house is, as you might expect, old and dark; and it's a sublime horror setting because of that. It creates a constant sense of malice and through it's dark corridors and many rooms, Whale is able to make the house into a labyrinth where we can believe that anything can happen. This coupled with the fact that the 'normal' people in the house are stranded there, thus creating claustrophobia along with the raging storm outside makes for an atmosphere that is as dark and morbid as anything that cinema has ever given us. The characters inside the house are enigma's themselves; each one is as frightening and inventive as the other, and they have all been imitated several times by later horror films. Even the travellers that are stranded in the house are given unique to each other. Whale also uses a few of these characters to implement his own brand of black humour (which can be felt strongly in his other three films as well). Many horror films don't work character-wise because they're all so similar to each other; but this film certainly doesn't suffer from that.
Overall, The Old Dark House is another feather in Whale's already feather filled cap. It's as genius as any of his other horror films and overall it's a crying shame that Whale didn't do more work in that genre, as that is the genre that is so rightfully his. If I haven't made it clear enough already: this film comes with the highest recommendation from me.
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