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The Old Dark House does not provide the gore and R-rated material seen
in today's horror movies but it does reflect a more simple time when
comedy and horror could be matched while maintaining a family rating.
As a child I saw The Old Dark House over one hundred times, I remember being on the edge of my chair during the entire movie every single sitting.If only the local television stations would be able to air this movie, a new generation of viewers could enjoy, The Old Dark House.
The film may be the last of the "old age" comedies that were popular during that time. Tom Poston does a good job of not only showing fear but does so in comedy style to allow us, the viewers, to use our imagination.
While The Old Dark House may not live up to today's standards, it was a "movie of the day" in 1963.
Owing little to either James Whale's 1932 chiller, or to J.B.
Priestly's original source novel, "Benighted", THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a
small, off-beat and pleasantly daffy scare-comedy, a change-of-pace for
director William Castle. Filmed and set in England, Tom Poston stars as
a hapless American who, on a visit to a curious roommate's even
curiouser family home, is caught up in a murderous merry-go-round of
mayhem, nursery rhymes, love and (very possibly) the end of the world
(including an Ark!). British stalwarts Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell,
Mervyn Johns, and Peter Bull have a charming good time playing the
various members of the Femm family, along with Janette Scott and an
unforgettably slinky Fenella Fielding as romantic interests. None of
the usual Castle gimmicks for this release--just a bit of eccentricity
and a pleasant, creepy, multi-murder mystery, with a puzzle to solve, a
couple of surprises, and some good solid chuckles.
A note to fans of Charles Addams--the film's poster and its main titles contain some choice Addams artwork.
An additional note: the film was shot in color, but released in a very faintly tinted black-and-white version. The color version of the film was only seen on subsequent television release.
This movie really does deserve a DVD release, not only for its place in the William Castle canon, but for the performances and the fun.
In this creepy horror-comedy directed by William Castle we meet Tom
(Tom Poston), an American residing in England from where he sells cars.
During a visit to a casino, where he informs his eccentric flatmate Caspar
Femm (Peter Bull) that Tom has now acquired for Caspar a brand new
car, Tom is invited to Femm House, home of Caspar and his family.
Reluctantly he accepts the invitation and makes his way to Femm House,
to find murder and very creepy family.
The rating on IMDb for 'The Old Dark House' (1963) simply is not an accurate assessment of this films quality in my opinion. Though quite obviously camp and with a unique charm all of its own this movie delivers an entertaining storyline and amusing comic scenes from beginning to end. Upon encountering the oddball charm of Caspar it becomes apparent that this horror movie is not going to be an all out scarefest, in fact its quality lies in the intermingling of a tight `whodunit' thriller with so many humorous sequences.
Tom Poston is cast perfectly as the nervous American trying desperately to make sense of the madness going on around him and his continuing encounters with overprotective and psychotic father Morgan Femm (Danny Green) make for some of the best comedy I have seen in a horror movie for a long time. The whole Femm family have a distinctly creepy charm to them from the gun-nut Uncle Roderick (an inspired performance from Robert Morley) to the charmingly deranged Petiphar (Mervyn Johns). Also worth noting is the performance from Janette Scott (The Day of the Triffiads) as the sweet and innocent Cecily Femm.
'The Old Dark House' is a wonderfully accomplished camp, horror-thriller in my opinion. The storyline is entertaining throughout and the comedy does not seem forced but instead works as a light-hearted diversion from what was actually an interesting and slightly complex plot. All this is complimented by a beautifully arranged and often apt musical score. While not really delivering any scares 'The Old Dark House' delivers entertainment and is certainly worth watching in my opinion. Despite some rather suspect special effects (though considering the year it was made one can hardly hold poor effects against it) and camp quality I recommend this to horror fans. My rating for 'The Old Dark House' (1963) - 7.5/10
Hadn't expected the rigmarole I'd have to go through to snag this film
on video, several years ago. I'd seen this two or three times as a
child and reveled in the dark comedy of it. The plot is silly, but it's
not nearly as important as the production itself.
The charming performances by the many delightful character actors are the highlights of "The Old Dark House" -- Robert Morely, Joyce Grenfell, Peter Bull. Who would ever think that Tom Poston would appear as the romantic (?!) hero of a movie, but there he is. And Oo, that Fenella Fielding! What a dish!
This film isn't for everyone, but I'll never forget it, and neither will you!
Tom Penderel (Tom Poston) is invited to stay at the Femm household...
which seems all fine and good until a big storm comes and it is
revealed that the family has its share of eccentricities. Not the least
of which is the idea that it's time to build an ark.
Director and producer William Castle seems to do no wrong. He has taken an old story, one that was previously made into a dark film in the 1930s, and added his own brand of humor and madness. And who better than Tom Poston to be the star? His slapstick comedy blends in perfectly as he interacts with the amorous Morgana and makes good use of trap doors.
If you're looking for a horror film, this really is not the film for you. There's nothing scary about it. But it is a fine film from a horror master, and there is the threat of death. For, you see, an inheritance is on the line and it would be to each family member's advantage if the others were not to survive.
Please pick up the William Castle box set from Sony and Columbia Pictures. There is not a bad film in the box.
One would expect a collaboration between the American director William Castle and the British production studios Hammer to result in a terrific must-see film, considering they were both horror genre giants in their respective continents during the early sixties. Castle became world famous and appreciated thanks to his morbidly themed but nevertheless light-headed Gothic horror spectacles ("House on Haunted Hill", "Mr. Sardonicus", "13 Ghosts" ), and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Hammer studios boomed with the gruesome re-imaging of the legendary Universal classics from the thirties ("Dracula", "The Mummy", "Frankenstein" ). Knowing this, "The Old Dark House" seems to be the ideal marriage, since it's more or less a remake of the underrated 1932 Universal masterpiece and a great opportunity for a director like Castle to showcase his creativity. Strangely enough, however, the film is somewhat of a disappointment and it's only rescued from inglorious mediocrity thanks to a handful of nice gags and an entertaining final act; including a surprising plot-twist and an exciting race against the clock literally! The rest of the film clumsily bounces back and forth between talkative mystery and immature comedy. Please don't get me wrong, "The Old Dark House" is never boring and I still prefer it over most of the soulless horror junk being released nowadays, but I simply expected a little bit more American car salesman Tom Penderel drives out to the god-forsaken British countryside in order to deliver a car at the request of his odd pal Caspar Femm. The two share an apartment, but they never see each other since Caspar always mysteriously vanishes before midnight. When he arrives at the sinister Femm country estate, he learns that all the eccentric family members are obliged to stay at the house and gather at midnight, or otherwise they lose the rights to their part of the inheritance of their notorious ancestor (a pirate). Synchronous with Tom's arrival, the family members are being killed off one by one. Tom should leave while, but he fell for the charming cousin Cecily and the remaining Femms suspect him to be the killer. "The Old Dark House" begins delightfully, with animated opening credits by none other than Charles Addams the creator of the immortal blackly comical series "The Addams Family and brings forward several great Gothic aspects, like a moody old castle and never-ending thunderstorms. Some of the supportive characters are also uniquely bizarre, like the crazy uncle who's building an arc or the grandmother that doesn't stop knitting, but overall the film isn't absurd or spooky enough. The actual "horror" footage in the film is limited, a few inventive death scenes and a laughably inept moment with a stuffed hyena.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of course this film doesn't hold a candle to the James Whale film from
1932, but if you put that film out of your mind and go into this
William Castle film and take if for what it is - a William Castle film
- you'll probably enjoy it. Like no other film I can think of, this
"Old Dark House" is like a Mad magazine movie satire come to life.
Actually, it's more like Mad magazine when it was a comic book back in
the 1950s. It has none of the sophistication and witty dialog that mark
the James Whale film, and neither does it have much to do with the J.
B. Priestly book 'Benighted' that the earlier film followed so closely,
but it does have a highly surreal wackiness that has more in common
with a Tex Avery cartoon than a live action horror comedy.
As a Hammer Film, it is also sumptuously art directed, with nicely dressed, if overly-lit, sets. Whereas the original film was about a group of travelers who find themselves stuck in a strange house inhabited by some insane, and in some cases, psychotic and dangerous family members, the William Castle film focuses on a single visitor, played by Tom Poston, who delivers a car to the Femm mansion to give the roommate friend who happens to be a member of the family.
Upon arriving at the mansion, the car is ruined and Penderel is instantly "invited" into the house via a trap door at the front porch (that becomes a running gag); and he proceeds to watch family members killed off one by one. Each family member, you see, must stay in the house, or forfeit the family fortune. Does it make any sense? Only in weird William Castle logic. The film does have a bit of the Charles Addams black humor to it, particularly when the family keeps lowering the flag at half mast every time one of their members dies.
These family members, while not as frighteningly bizarre as in Whale's film, are indeed a strange bunch. There's Roderick Femm, avid gun and canon collector, played by Robert Morley; Petiphar Femm, who plans on saving the world by building a new ark and populating it with Tom Penderel (Poston) and Morgana Femm (Fenella Fielding), as the ark's human specimens; Tom's roommate friend Caspar Femm and his twin brother, Jaspar, both played by Peter Bull eventually laying side by side dead in coffins, one strangled by fireplace stokers; crazy knitter Agatha Femm, played by Joyce Grenfell, who is offed by her own knitting needles; totally crazy and psychotic Morgan Femm (Danny Green), who seems to fill the threatening role of crazy Saul from the first film; but it is Cecily Femm, played by the sexy and beautiful Janette Scott (of "Day of the Triffids" fame) who brings the biggest surprise by being revealed as the actual psycho murderer amongst this crazy bunch.
No, this is not a classic, but the atmospheric surroundings, a stuffed animal being shaken by someone off screen to suggest a fearsome hyena (the audacity of the cheapness!), the weird Noah's ark thing, and the sheer oddness of the whole production makes it very watchable. And it has a very good score by Benjamin Frankel, of all people. Only William Castle could have put something together so utterly surreal as this. Truly bizarre. Don't expect James Whale, and know what you're getting yourself in for and you'll probably have a good time.
Well, I'm a big fan of William Castle and of Hammer Horror, so I figured that this meeting between the two would be damn good. William Castle's The Old Dark House is not a remake of the classic James Whale film, and this is actually unfortunate because if it was, it no doubt would have been a better film. Instead, what we have is a plot involving an American car dealer who goes to an old house after receiving an invitation from a friend of his, who he shares a house with. While there, he is introduced to a host of strange characters, as well as a plot involving a huge inheritance. The film is obviously intended to be a comedy, but it would seem that Castle should have stuck to horror as little in this film is actually funny, and I was really bored before the ending - not something I expect from William Castle! Considering the film focuses on an 'old dark house', there's very little in the way of atmosphere and I'm guessing that Castle wanted this film to appeal to a younger audience, and for that reason - there's not much here for the older movie fan. The plot rambles on until the conclusion and by then I didn't really care what happened. Overall, this is a sub standard William Castle film if ever I saw one. Straight-Jacket, Homicidal, Mr Sardonicus, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts come highly recommended - this one doesn't!
I used to take people to task when they said that, being fond of a
particular film, they would not watch some other version of the same
but, while I am a fan of Hammer Horror and (to a lesser
extent) genre exponent William Castle, I have to admit to being guilty
of this fault (or, if you like, bias) myself when it came to my
all-time favorite movie James Whale's similarly-titled 1932
adaptation for Universal of J.B. Priestley's "Benighted"! For this
reason, I have postponed viewing the by-all-accounts "best forgotten"
remake (Castle apparently did, because he fails to mention it in his
memoirs...and, apparently, Boris Karloff declined to participate in it
for being overly jokey!) for the longest time but, in view of my
ongoing Whale marathon, I thought it was high time I got around to it!
By the way, though I recall coming across a copy of the novel as a kid
(that is, long before I watched the original film), I have been
searching high and low ever since catching up with it given that I
was intrigued enough by the back-story to wish to concoct a veritable
According to "The Leslie Halliwell Film Guide", the Whale picture had adhered fairly closely to the text albeit "omitting the more thoughtful moments"; the Hammer version, then, is nothing like Whale's but it does include a nice 'exclusive' subplot involving one character's attempt to reproduce Noah's Ark! In most other respects, however, the film is a dismal failure (a pitifully poor sequence supposedly depicting a hyena attack must be seen to be disbelieved!): comedy does not suit Castle (despite his tendency towards Camp), much less Hammer (their recognizable style only coming through here in the overall look, aided by Charles Addams' evocative animated title sequence; the latter is said to owe his choice of career to a viewing of Whale's original!) and the end result barely raises a chuckle with none of the subtle wit that so characterized the classic original! One grave mistake is the fact that only a single interloper is made to contend with the family of eccentrics, and resistible American comic Tom Poston at that; for the record, he had already collaborated with the director on the previous year's ZOTZ! (which I also own but have yet to check out).
The Femms, on the other hand, are incarnated by a promising gallery of actors but to little effect: Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, Janette Scott, Fenella Fielding (who would play a similar role in CARRY ON SCREAMING ), Peter Bull, Mervyn Johns and Danny Green; incidentally, Fielding and Bull would later appear together again in the period romp, LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS! (1969) which I have just acquired. The Whale film had no young women, crazy or otherwise, within the household but there were indeed 2 among the stranded travelers. Whereas Morley is supposed to replace Elspeth (billed as John!) Dudgeon, Grenfell stands in for Eva Moore, Bull has a dual role (which, again, is a new addition) while Johns more or less emulates Brember Wills (since he is perhaps the looniest that said, his murderous inclinations are transferred onto one of the ladies, which is an agreeable novelty in itself!) and Green doubles for Karloff's giant mute butler (though, in this case, his dumbness is merely a ruse!).
Even if the original was relatively uneventful (a criticism leveled at it by hardened horror-movie buffs not satiated by its inherent stylized quirkiness), this one takes the form of an Agatha Christie whodunnit, with characters being eliminated one by one (among the murder methods are having water replaced by acid and, most ingeniously, a shotgun going off 'accidentally') over an inheritance even Poston is linked with (and suspected of) this, which detaches it all the more from Whale's infinitely superior rendition! As if to emphasize this shift from Gothic horror to murder mystery, Hammer released the film theatrically in black-and-white (as per their current standard for thrillers) despite having shot it in color with the latter prints only cropping up as TV screenings (which is how I came across my copy) and, fairly recently, DVD!
Just like Castle's movie "Zotz!", The Old, Dark House was yet another
inane farce that easily proved just how clueless this guy was at
directing Comedy (more so than he was with directing Horror).
Once again (just like with "Zotz!") this less-than-funny, hare-brained story had the distinctive feel of being an imitation (a very poor imitation) of a typical Disney, family movie of the early 1960s. This film's targeted audience was that of children under 10 who obviously had very low expectations about what was entertaining and what wasn't.
This film certainly had all sorts of potential to be a really fun and humorous story for all ages. But it seemed that at the hands of such a clueless amateur like William Castle, its story just didn't come anywhere near to living up to that potential.
At every opportunity to generate some genuine laughs, Castle missed the mark, over and over again, and let its story fall flat on its face and flounder around in what seemed like a literal no-man's land of B-grade mediocrity.
I believe that The Old, Dark House was one of the few Castle films that was actually shot in colour.
This film's story is something of a "Whodunit". It involves the peculiar specifics of a family Will, the 7 eccentric relatives who all reside at Femm Hall (a grand, old, English mansion falling into ruin), and an American outsider who inadvertently gets dragged into an unpleasant family affair that goes way beyond his power of control.
One of this film's biggest downfalls was Castle's inability to build suspense, sustain drama and be humorous, all at the same time. Long before it's actually revealed, the viewer will have no trouble guessing the identity of the killer who's been bumping off all of the Femms at Femm Hall.
This is not a good movie. I don't even recommend it as entertainment for young children. Let's face it, William Castle just didn't have the knack for creating memorable Comedy.
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