Cast: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart
Directed by: James Whale
Running time: 71 minutes
The Old Dark House wasn’t the first film in the old dark house sub-genre of horror/suspense films but it was the one that gave it its name. This genre is noted by its usual formula of guests gathering at a spooky old mansion, often for a party or a reading of the will of a recently deceased family member.
Released in 1932, this pre-code horror is helmed by Frankenstein Director James Whale and feature a completely unrecognizable Boris Karloff in a supporting role. A group of five travelers in Wales seek refuge from a powerful storm and stumble upon a dilapidated old mansion where the original creepy and kooky family, the Femms live. Roger Penderel (Douglas), his friends Philip (Massey) and Margaret Waverton (Stuart); Sir William Porterhouse (Laughton) and his girlfriend Gladys (Bond) are welcomed (very reluctantly) by Horace Femm (Thesiger) and his sister, fire and brimstone religious obsessive Rebecca (Eva Moore).
As plots go there isn’t really much of one to speak of in The Old Dark House. The entire film revolves around the atmosphere of the house and its colorful and depraved collection of characters. Karloff plays the Femm’s hulking, mute butler Morgan. Morgan eventually becomes drunk and tries to attack Margaret forcing the other men to subdue him. Of course Morgan has competition for Margaret in the form of Rebecca who leers hungrily at the beautiful blond as she changes clothes.
Throughout the film the conversation is interrupted by the sounds of maniacal laughing of Rebecca and Horace’s brother Saul, who they reveal to be the worst of the bunch. And once we finally meet Saul it is unexpected but definitely worth the wait. Although not stated it is strong hinted that Porterhouse is gay and keeps a girlfriend to keep up appearances. Something you would not see in a post-code film
The Old Dark House is a movie that really requires multiple views to catch a lot of the pre-code innuendo and sights because while you focus on the characters on the foreground there is always something going on in the background. The performances, particularly from Thesiger and Moore are hypnotic. This is a film that didn’t create much buzz when released in America although found much greater success in England. It was for many years considered a lost film until a copy was found in the Universal vaults in the late 1960s.
The Cohen 4K restoration presents the very best version of the film in terms of both audio and visual quality and blows away previous releases. It is incredibly crisp and clean and lets you see it as originally intended. A prime example of first rate restoration! Cohen has brought Whale’s gothic masterpiece back to life.
Feature-Length Audio Commentary track by Actor Gloria Stuart – This Titanic star recalls her memories from making the film.
Feature-Length Audio Commentary track by James Whale Biographer James Curtis
Daughter of Frankenstein: A Conversation with Sara Karloff – In this new interview, Boris Karloff’s daughter talks about her father’s career and this film
Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House – Interview with Director Curtis Harrington and close friend to whale who was the one who actually discovered the print of the film in the Universal Vaults and then began a quest to restore it.