Sunday, December 20, 2009
Day 277: The Old, Dark House (1932) - Rank 4.5/5
This is one of the only films included in this ongoing list that I've watched before. In this situation, I include it only because I had a gathering of friends over to my home to watch it during the October season. I coupled it with "The Wolf Man," but I'm choosing to present only "The Old, Dark House" here because far too few film lovers are familiar with it. It's a shame really, for I think it's one of the best movies to come out of the Universal horror boom of the thirties and forties.
The film features two themes that are common to horror: a couple becoming stranded at a creepy manor on a dark and stormy night, and the subplot of a crazy relative locked in the attic of the home suddenly escaping. "The Old, Dark House" was the first film to feature these themes that have since been duplicated and butchered ad nauseum by decades of copycats. Here, our stranded travelers are Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart and Charles Laughton, and our eerie hosts are Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore. Thesiger and Moore plays Horace and Rebecca Femm, respectively, with wonderful, tongue-in-cheek glee. Horace Femm sets the scene as he greets his guests and then remarks "My sister was in the process of arranging these" before tossing a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers into the fire.
Brember Wills is also one of the most terrifying villains in early cinema. With a scraggly beard and a twisted laugh, he jabs a knife into the table repeatedly in front of Douglas while soliloquizing on his studies of fire. "It's not hot at all, but cold as ice and sharp as knives." The film is probably overlooked because it doesn't feature a monster that could later reappear in numerous sequels (though Boris Karloff does appear as the Femm's alcoholic and lecherous butler), but it is a wonderfully atypical, early offering from a studio that made an early fortune on the horror genre.
Not a trailer, but a decent review