Review of The Old Dark House


I like to “live it up” on Saturday nights. These days, I do most of my Saturday night “living” on my sofa, watching Svengoolie on MeTV . Thankfully, he’s a lively kind of horror movie host. Anyway, regular doses of Svengoolie have helped me to appreciate many of the old Universal horror films. Of all the horror classics, I have found I like Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein the best. Coming in second (I guess third) might be The Invisible Man. Even after seeing it a couple of times, I didn’t realize that James Whale directed The Invisible Man. Whale, of course, is most famous for directing Frankenstein and The Bride thereof. I then wondered, since I love The Invisible Man, maybe I’m not merely a Frankenstein fan. Maybe I am a James Whale fan?

Whale has made four classic horror films, of which I had seen three. I was delighted to learn that the horror film that I had not yet seen was a haunted house film. The other night, I finally watched The Old Dark House. It did not disappoint.

When describing films that are overly saturated with elements of a certain theme, the phase “X for X’s sake” is often used. ‘Gore for gore’s sake’ or ‘Violence for violence’s sake’, you get the idea. I am tempted to use the phase “Creepy for Creepy’s sake” when describing the film, although I don’t mean it in a negative way. The Old Dark House doesn’t grab you by the head and smash your face down inside a pie of creepiness. Rather the creepiness is all around you from beginning to end, though it may not always be subtle. It OldDarkHouseis a simple story – a violent storm forces two sets of travelers to seek shelter at and old, dark house. The inhabitants of the house are quite strange, as would be expected. There are several subplots that arise, and some of these are awkward. But never mind, the purpose of the film is not to tell a thought-provoking story with a compelling plot. Instead, it is to revel in the art of the uncanny. It succeeds in its goal with dark and chilling atmospheres, crafty camerawork, and its effective use of shadows. Some of the characters are humorously unsettling, even by today’s standards. I would like to go more in depth and describing some of them, but that would require me to tread too far into the forest of spoilers and I don’t want to do that. Oh and there’s the screeching of the wind! Gotta love that!

Some of the visuals described above are signature styles of James Whale. If you have never seen any of his films, I recommend doing so immediately. For those who are familiar with Frankenstein (and who’s not?), you may be delighted to know that James Whale once again features Boris Karloff as a hulking, mute figure in The Old Dark House. I saw this film on youtube, and the recording is quite crappy. I have yet to see it on Svengoolie. I’m sure he could get a hold of a better print. Sven, would you get this film for me? You would, aww that’s just sweet!

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