Director James Whale is, arguably, best known to fans of cinema as the director of Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein. Two amazing films that stand as major achievements in the horror genre. The fact that he made yet another classic in between those two movies is, quite frankly, just showing off.
The Old Dark House is, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, a movie about five people who end up sheltering in an old, dark house after they find the roads flooded by a torrential storm that’s even making the surrounding hillsides crumble. The house owners (Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore) are more than a little put out by these unexpected houseguests and the scary, brooding butler (Boris Karloff) looks set to dispose of them before the night is over. And let’s not forget the noises from the floors above, could someone actually be locked in an upstairs room?
Mixing plenty of humour in with the oppressive atmosphere, The Old Dark House works both as a straight horror movie and as a comedy horror, as do the other classics mentioned above. While it has, as you would expect, dated a fair bit since it’s original release almost 80 years ago it hasn’t dated all that badly. I found myself enormously entertained from beginning to end and kicked myself for not having sought the film out sooner. Even just repeated lines like “no beds” and “have a potato” made me laugh in between some marvellous exchanges and enjoyable character moments.
The cast all do a great job. As well as those mentioned we have Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lillian Bond, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, John Dudgeon and Brember Wills (and I think that covers the entire cast). Charles Laughton is a real treat as a rich man who hasn’t forgotten his years of poverty but everyone is on top form.
Based on a novel by J.B. Priestly, the screenplay by Benn W. Levy (with some uncredited additional dialogue by R.C. Sherriff) is so good that it practically tickles your earlobes with every line. While the comedy may not all be intentional, it’s always present but never bursts the bubble of the entire set-up.
A great set, decent special effects when needed and the usual, masterful direction from Whale – The Old Dark House is yet another of those old horror movies that has been hailed as a classic over the years for good reason. It’s a great film.
DIRECTOR: JAMES WHALE
STARS: ERNEST THESIGER, EVA MOORE, BORIS KARLOFF, RAYMOND MASSEY, GLORIA STUART, CHARLES LAUGHTON, MELVYN DOUGLAS, LILLIAN BOND
RUNTIME: 73 MINS APPROX