Monday, January 29, 2018

The Old Dark House

So I recorded The Old Dark House when it was on TCM last Halloween, and finally got around to watching it. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart respectively) are driving through a rainstorm in the middle of nowhere, with snarky Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) in the back seat. The road becomes impassable, so they stop at the nearest house and ask to spend the night. The house is owned by the Femms, Horace (Ernest Thesiger) and Rebecca (Eva Moore), who have a servant in Morgan (Boris Karloff). They're none too happy about having guests, acting very strangely. Morgan is the worst of the lot, looking frightening with a beard.

Into all this come another couple, Sir William (Charles Laughton) and his girlfriend Gladys (Lilian Bond). Actually, Gladys seems like more of a kept woman, and when she and Penderel meet they fall in love. Still, all of the guests begin to get the impression that there's something wrong going on in the house, although they can't quite put their finger on what. It goes on like this.

I have to admit that I was left a bit cold by The Old Dark House. I found some of the characterizations annoying, and the story never really seemed to go anywhere for me, with it just suddenly ending. Perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention. There was also a scene where the curtains were set on fire, and that fire didn't get put out from what I could tell.

Having said that, The Old Dark House became a template for a whole sub-genre within the horror film cycle. Also on Halloween, TCM ran a later movie in that sub-genre, The Cat and the Canary, which I reviewed here several weeks back. That one was better because it gave everybody coherent motivations where this original is closer to a slice of life movie in that nobody has any motivations.

The Old Dark House is generally highly-rated, or at least higher than I would rate it, so it's certainly another movie where you should probably watch and judge for yourself.

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