I’ve decided to subject myself to 31 days of horror films for the month of October. It will be a mix of rewatching stuff I haven’t seen in a while and brand new things. Day 19:
THE OLD DARK HOUSE – dir. James Whale
I’ve always really liked the films of James Whale and found him to be a fascinating man both behind and away from the camera. This film was always a glaring hole for me in his filmography and with the release of the new You Must Remember This (legitimately the best podcast on Hollywood ever) series on Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi, I felt I had to correct this.
What struck me the most about the film is that it is definitely the earliest horror comedy that I have ever seen. While I’m sure there were others before it, this one manages to walk the delicate line between creepy atmosphere and great comedy so well. I would be laughing at one second and then be on the edge of my seat the next.
The premise while simple on paper, is so far from it on execution. A couple and their friend are forced to pull off the road at the nearest house when rainfall causes the massive mudslides. Of course the creepy mansion is home to a family of eccentrics. The eldest brother Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger) seems to live in fear and casually rattles off he may be on the run from the law. His sister Rebecca (Eva Moore) is a near deaf zealot who takes every chance she gets to chastise anyone in her sight. They are both served by their mute butler Morgan (played by a Hulk’d out Boris Karloff) who becomes a maniac the moment he begins drinking. They don’t seem happy at all to be in this house and even scared by it.
The guests are simply trying to survive and not piss off their hosts but the family keeps upping the level of surrealness at every turn. The house is a massive beast filled with secrets as well that seem to pop every few minutes. The characters react to it with jokes or just plain horror and it plays so very well. I don’t want to say much about the film because it’s better experienced then described. It’s a lean 78 minutes too so you won’t be with it long but it’s the perfect amount for what the film is. It’s a perfect starting point for those who are afraid to watch older films and for horror people it’s great look at one of the earliest forms of the horror-comedy.