The Old Dark House is horror comedy released by Universal Pictures in 1932. The film stars Boris Karloff in his first credited starring role and Gloria Stuart who would go on to play as Flora Cranley in the Invisible Man released the following year. The Old Dark House was thought to be a lost film for years until director Curtis Harrington found a printable negative.
For these older films you defiantly have to be in the right kind of mood for them. It seems to me that the older horror films tend to have simple uncomplicated plots… well more so than horror movies of the modern age. When I reach for classic horror its because I want to remember that horror is more than guts, gore and adrenalin. It can also be simple, methodical and even charming at times. If it’s one thing that The Old Dark House has it’s charm.
The Old Dark House follows a married couple Philip and Margret Waverton (played by Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart respectively) along with their friend Roger Penderel (played by Melvyn Douglas) who get trapped in a storm and seek refuge in the only home near by. The home is owned by the Femm Family headed by Horace (played by Ernest Thesiger) and his sister Rebecca (played by Eva Moore) who is a religious fanatic. Also in the home is the Flemms 102 year old father and the Flemms brutish butler Morgan (played by Boris Karloff). During the storm a couple Sir William Porterhouse (Played by Charles Laughton) and Gladys Perkins (Play by Lilian Bond) come to the home also seeking refuge. The storm sets Morgan off he gets drunk, attacks Margret and then releases Saul. The long locked away brother of Horace and Rebecca due to the fact he’s a crazy pyro.
The best scene is between Margret and Rebecca when Margret is changing cloths. The scene which I don’t want to spoil is actually very unsettling to watch. I don’t know why it puts me on edge the way it does. Rebeccas face becoming distorted in close shots with her crazed monologue set to the sounds of a raging storm genuinely creepy and unsettling. When Margret snaps a little at the end of the scene I understand why and sympathize with her character.
Another scene I feel is worth mentioning is between Gladys and Rodger. In the scene Gladys is having a frank and honest conversation about her relationship with William to Rodger. She remarks that she doesn’t love him and he doesn’t love her. That they are both together because they’re lonely. That fact that he buys her things with out expecting anything in return is also brought up. This scene is what makes me actually care about these two characters.
The solid acting is a major strength for this film. Many of the actors and actresses involved are still well respected. Overacting was common during the era of early talking pictures like . With the first talking picture The Jazz Singer was released in 1927 just five years prior to The Old Dark House. As an early talking picture the use of music is very minimal if not completely absent. But the silence combined with the occasion crash of lightning and the sound of the storm raging outside just heightens the chilling atmosphere.
I will admit that this film isn’t as strong as some of its contemporaries such as Frankenstein and Dracula released the year prior or The Invisible Man released the year after. But it’s still one of the best of the early 30’s that I’ve seen.
While I did enjoy The Old Dark House hell I love it. It still isn’t by any stretch of imagination a perfect film. The story drags at times and doesn’t really pick up till the last 15 minutes or so when Saul is released.The films length leaves a bit to desired by modern standards with a run time of 71 minutes. Which was average at the time. All considered The Old Dark House gets 7/10. Good for fans of old horror films and very much for fans Boris Karloff. Well worth watching on a dark stormy night.