SEE the original dysfunctional family! WITNESS the deranged brute and half-wit butler Morgan, crazed with lust and violence and filled with smouldering menace! FAINT with terror at the beautiful damsels in distress! HEAR the creaking vocal cords of the man-child Sir Roderick, confined to his bed and wrinkled beyond recognition, uttering cryptic, terrifying warnings! LEAP with ICY FEAR at Saul, the most dangerous son, waiting in his room, twice-locked from the OUTSIDE, plotting, plotting....!
Yes folks, The Old Dark House is one of my favourite films (I especially love to watch it near Hallowe'en), and presenting it as some kind of late October carnival sideshow attraction is not altogether inappropriate. Weirdness abounds, there's madness, mystery, murder, and romance. When they came up with the old adage "they don't make 'em like they used to", they could very well have been referring to The Old Dark House, which has many surprisingly risque (and since much-copied) components for the era in which it was made.
We begin with three travellers (Raymond Massey's Philip Waverton, Melvyn Douglas' Roger Penderel, and Gloria Stuart's Margaret Waverton) on a dark and tres stormy night (natch) who eventually become completely stranded by the storm, conveniently, at the steps of a decrepit mansion. They expect to be welcomed into the home and perhaps be granted a night's shelter there, but we know, as soon as the door opens a crack and Karloff's heavily made-up, slashed and sneering brutish visage peers out menacingly, that the travelling trio is in for the night of their lives. Things get increasingly weirder as each Femm family member is introduced - from Ernest Thesiger's wonderfully eccentric and nervous Horace Femm, Eva Moore's selectively deaf, pickled onion-loving, bible-thumping Rebecca Femm, to Elspeth Dudgeon's horribly eerie androgynous invalid patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, and finally, to Brember Wills' Saul; clever, insane, and needing to kill.
There are some virtuoso camera tricks used as well - particularly in the scene with Moore and Stuart in the bedchamber with the distorted features in the mirror, coming across as a twisted version of Alice in Acidland played though the most warped of funhouse mirrors. Not to mention many motifs carried over from Whale's previous film, that one about the mad scientist and the monster.
I can't even really put into words how much I love this delightfully insane film. The template for SO many films to follow, and certainly not those limited to the horror genre.
The one, the only, The Old Dark House, is James Whale's masterpiece. Frankenstein gets all the glory, but what we have here is a bona-fide CLASSIC, and a film that I can safely say makes my top 20 films of all time. There are a few clips from the film on YouTube, but I chose not to include any here, as the film is really better served if viewed in its entirety.
Go. Watch. Then have some exceptional gin, and don't forget - have a potato.