The Old Dark House (1932)

directed by JAMES WHALE
universal pictures

This really happened: nearing the climactic point of this frankly rather goofy haunted-house yarn, I was thinking to myself, “this is kinda reminding me a bit of Burnt Offerings” … and almost immediately a character in the film says, “He wanted, he said, to … to make this house a burnt offering.” Based on a novel that’s claimed to be about “post-WWI disillusionment,” this picture concerns two groups of weary travelers forced by a cataclysmic rainstorm to beg refuge from, yes, an old dark house. (When the initial group knocks on the door, I expected Riff Raff to answer, of course.) From that point on it’s gothic intrigue and highly amusing characterizations, with a little passion and violence tossed in as seasoning. Can you ever judge an artifact such as this without seeing it through the filter of all that’s come since? Maybe, maybe not; either way, and irrespective of whether it’s the first horror-comedy, it’s a blast.

why did i watch this movie?

I came across a reference to the 1963 remake, which sounds terrible but piqued my interest in the original.

should you watch this movie?

It’s about 72 minutes long and easily accessible in the, uh, “public domain.”

highlight and low point

Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm is worth the price of admission all by himself, and it’s informative to espy the genesis of the many references made to aspects of this adventure across multiple forms of visual media over the decades. (Such as the aforementioned Rocky Horror nod.)  It’s pre-Code, too – another reason I chose it – and there’s at least one exchange of racy innuendo that might surprise. For trivia buffs, it’s Charles Laughton’s first Tinseltown feature and allegedly the source of an unceasing enmity between Karloff and Whale.

rating from outer space: B+

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