The Old Dark House
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Weary travelers find shelter in a mysterious Welsh manor in this definitive "Old Dark House" thriller and cult movie favorite by horror pioneer James Whale. Greeted with an animal-like grunt by the mansion's hideously scarred butler, three disoriented voyagers find themselves in the unwelcoming company of the psychotic Femm family, whose members include a religious fanatic obsessed with mortality and other matter of the sinful flesh, her browbeaten brother, and a scripture-quoting homicidal pyromaniac...all watched over by their androgynous, 102-year-old father. Relieving the story's overwhelming weirdness are Charles Laughton and a young Gloria Stuart as two confused visitors to the strange estate.
- Movie Still Gallery contains production and publicity stills from The Old Dark House
- Interview with Curtis Harrington, friend of James Whale
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THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a horror movie, of sorts. It doesn't indulge in splatter-gore or supernatural head-twisting to shock and thrill. Rather, it relies on high shadows and sardonic dialogue, strange characters and menacing situations. The movie contains no character stranger than Karloff's Morgan, a hulking mute brute glowering from behind a bolshie beard and a few deep and delicately placed scars painted in by Universal make-up genius Jack Pierce. Morgan develops an overarching attraction to pretty young Margaret Waverton. Director James Whale makes Margaret undergo the only costume change in the film, a move that accomplishes a number of things. Undressing down to her slip, Margaret is at once sexualized and made vulnerable. It gives deaf old Rebecca Femm the opportunity to deliver lines at once darkly comic, sardonic, and deeply disturbing. As Gloria Stuart, who recently played the 100-year-old survivor in TITANTIC, tells us on the easy and informal commentary track, Whale wanted her to appear a `flaming dagger' when Karloff chased her about the dark mansion, hence the pink Jean Harlow-ish silk gown. Rebecca Femm, fondling the gown's silk, declares "Fine stuff, but it'll rot." Touching the young woman's skin beneath the gown, she says "Finer stuff still, but it'll rot, too!" Whale intercuts the scene with images of Margaret and Rebecca and Margaret looking at herself in an old and distorting mirror. It's a brilliant sequence, transcending and enhancing the horror simultaneously.
THE OLD DARK HOUSE is filled with twisted, dark comedy and grand performances. Whale, of course, had earlier directed Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, and would work yet again with him in a few years on THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Thesiger would join them as the demented Dr. Pretorius. If you've seen that movie and enjoyed its singular brand of humor, you'll enjoy THE OLD DARK HOUSE as well. HOUSE lacks BRIDE'S humanity, there are no noble monsters in this one, but its comedy is more finely honed and definitely of a darker hue. And the ensemble cast is as good as it gets. I loved this movie.
Included on the Image dvd is Gloria Stuart's informal and personal commentary, a nine-minute stills gallery (button free, it runs on its own) and an eight minute interview with director Curtis Harrington, who was a friend of Whale's and the man most responsible for preserving, and restoring, THE OLD DARK HOUSE as it lay mouldering in the Universal vaults in the 1960s.
spend a night in a dark and stormy HOUSE.
A James Whale CLASSIC!