Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Old Dark House

The Old Dark House (1932)

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The next category in the History of Horror Film Challenge was either Tod Browning or James Whale. I picked James Whale specifically because The Old Dark House has been on my list for years and now I've finally gotten around to watching it. Amazing.

It's about a miserable couple (Raymond Massey & Gloria Stuart), a rich guy and his chorus girl girlfriend (Charles Laughton & Lilian Bond), and another guy (Melvyn Douglas) who are forced to stop at an old dark house due to a rain storm fucking up the roads. The house is inhabited by a bitchy old lady (Eva Moore), her neurotic brother (Ernest Thesiger), and their mute, violently drunk butler (Boris Karloff). And then they like have dinner and talk and shit.

This movie is incredibly charming and at times very funny. Basically every line Ernest Thesiger delivered cracked me up. There's a point where the couple wind up upstairs and find the aging father of the weird siblings (John Dudgeon), who is also particularly funny.

It also does a pretty damn good job at summarizing the gothic horror genre, making it sort of a gothic horror comedy, which is a genre combination which probably hasn't been done well since.

On a technical note, the lighting was especially fun, even including a 1930s jump scare, where the wife lady is making shadow puppets against the wall and the violent butler's shadow just appears from behind her shadow, which startled me pretty good. Normally I'd complain about there being a jump scare but seeing as this was made in '32 and it was actually still scary I'm going to give it a round of applause.

The actors are all really good in a fun, 1930s way. Melvyn Douglas, who I mainly know as the fucking ancient dude from Being There is smoking hot as the romantic lead in this, so that's nice for me anyway.

It was disappointing that Karloff was given virtually nothing to do, basically reprising his role as Frankenstein's monster and drunkenly lurching about the house. I guess at this point in history he hadn't really done too many speaking roles so I can't fault them that too much.

While the actors may have been delightful, the characters were kind of stupid. There's a part where the bat-shit fucking insane, manipulative, pyromaniac other brother (Brember Wills) gets released and almost everybody just goes and hides. Like, they were given the information that this guy was definitely going to try to burn the house down if he got out, and you can't hide from fire so I don't know what the point of that was.

The writing is decent, like I said earlier, there are some pretty funny lines, and they actually manage to pack quite a bit of character development into the movie. Charles Laughton and Lilian Bond especially go from being the most obnoxious people in the world to sort of likeable by the end without it feeling too forced which is impressive.

The other issue with the movie is that not a lot happens for the majority of it. Most of what's going on for most of the movie is dinner, and then a bunch of strangers being weirdly frank with each other while waiting for the power to get knocked out. Yes, it's a gothic tale, nothing happening is par for the course. No, that's not a valid excuse.

This movie is still fun and surprisingly influential. One of the big things I noticed was how much the movie Dolls borrows from this movie, mainly because I watched Dolls not that long ago.

All in all, this is a delightful older movie and definitely a must watch if you like your scary to be silly. If you're not into silly, or not into movies with very (very) little action, then this is not for you.

- "Have a potato" (+2)
- Old timey jump scare (+1)
- Boris Karloff is in the film (+1)
- Charles Laughton is in the film (+1)
- Ernest Thesiger is in the film (+1)
- Melvyn Douglas, the unexpected smoke show (+1)
Total: (+7)

- Characters are dumb (-1)
- Nothing happens for an hour (-1)
Total: (-2)
Final Score: +5

Directed by: James Whale.  Written by: R.C. Sherriff, Benn W. Levy based on the novel by J.B. Priestly.  Starring: Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Brember Wills, John Dudgeon.

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