Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Terrifying Tuesdays: The Old Dark House (1932)

From Art of the Beautiful-Grotesque

'Tis the season to start watching frightening films again, but I thought I would ease into it gradually this year.  "The Old Dark House" (1932) is not a horror movie in the strictest sense since no (spoiler alert!) supernatural elements are involved, but there are enough thrills, chills, and eerie atmosphere in this film to make it worthy of the name.  It also doesn't hurt that the director is James Whale while one of the stars is Boris Karloff, both still fresh off the success of "Frankenstein" (1931).

In classic scary movie style, a group of travellers is forced to take refuge in a terrifying old mansion one night when an overwhelming storm closes the road.  Inhabited by one of the most dysfunctional families ever depicted on screen, this house is not the most welcoming shelter, but the residents grudgingly agree to let the stranded motorists spend the night.  The uninvited guests include Margaret and Phillip Waverton (Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey), a couple experiencing marital problems; Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), a war veteran accompanying the Wavertons; Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton), a rich, powerful, but insecure businessman; and Gladys "DuCane" Perkins (Lilian Bond), a chorus girl and Sir William's companion.  Their reluctants hosts are gloomy brother Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger); his religious fanatic sister Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore); Morgan (Karloff), the brutish alcoholic mute butler; Sir Roderick Femm (Elspeth "John" Dudgeon), the bed-ridden centenarian family patriarch; and... someone else!  The personal problems of the guests and the character weaknesses of the homeowners, combined with this mysterious unknown member of the household, bring this eerie tale to a rather exciting conclusion.

There is a bit of romance, some comedy, and enough suspense in the movie to make viewing worthwhile for even the most hardened fans of the horror genre.  The actors are all superb, and the ones portraying the quirky residents of the old dark house have a particularly good time chewing the scenery as their characters' personalities come to light.  Best of all, you can watch this movie for free on YouTube (see below).  What a great way to make one's way back into the world of horror films as Halloween fast approaches!

Interesting Fact:  Sir Roderick Femm, the ancient patriarch of the family residing in the old dark house, was portrayed by a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon, who was billed as "John Dudgeon", presumably because director James Whale could not find a male actor who looked old enough for the role!

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0

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