Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Old Dark House (1932)

A bickering young couple and their wise-cracking friend are travelling down a remote road during a very bad storm. Their car gets stuck, so they decide to seek shelter in an Old Dark House. Stop me if you've heard this one.

Made two years before The Ghost Walks, this very well may be the progenitor of all haunted house movies, at least in the talkie era. It's interesting to note, however, that it's not a haunted house movie.

Over the years I've developed a few working definitions. The word Horror implies how you are made to feel, but I believe a horror movie needs another element: a monster. That monster can be a giant gorilla, a zombie, a witch doctor, alien, demon, robot, mad man, or even a virus. Some embodiment of evil. For a Haunted House movie, the house itself must be more than a setting. It must also be a character and a monster. At the risk of spoiling a better than fair movie, the this house is the setting. Nothing more.

So, our bickering couple is Philip (Raymond Massey) and Margaret (Gloria Stuart) Waverton. Gloria you may remember as the really old lady from Titanic (the Hunky Leo version). She passed away last September, two months after her 100th birthday. Wise-cracking friend Roger is played by Melvyn Douglas. They are less than graciously greeted by mute man-servant Morgan (Boris Karloff). Brother and sister Femm allow them to stay, but make it clear that they are not to make themselves comfortable.

Soon a second couple arrive with the same problem. Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his girl Gladys.

After some gin and potatoes, we eventually learn that Morgan is a bit of a monster, the family has some major secrets, and that Gladys is hanging around tubby Porterhouse for his money. She's just waiting for a hansom wise-cracking man to come along.

There is a statement at the beginning assuring people that this is indeed the same Karloff from the Frankenstein movie. Boris was asked to be in William Castle's remake, but declined because he didn't like the script. Seems like that was a good call.

Between 1931 and 1935, James Whale directed this, the two good Frankenstein movies, and The Invisible Man. As horror became passe, he continued producing good work throughout the 30's. Then it all ended. Maybe because he failed to keep the closet door completely shut, studios turned their back on him. He resorted to a life of fabulous pool parties and took his life at 67. It was 16 years since his last feature film.

Decent acting, clever dialog, creepy setting, and well made. Still, it's a comedy first and horror second. It was highly touted and I'm glad I watched it, but like The Haunting, it didn't quite live up to expectations. AMRU 3.
[feels the fabric of Margaret's gown] "fine stuff, but it'll rot."
[touches Margaret's skin] "finer stuff still, but it'll rot too!"

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