(1932) dir. James Whale
For Halloween, I usually like to squeeze in a bunch of classic horror films. It’s my mini-semi-tradition. But for some reason, largely tiredness I’d say, I never got to see any of the films before the holiday, so now, I have a little post-Halloween trove of films to see.
I kicked it off with James Whale’s The Old Dark House, an interesting film made during Whale’s heydey of the 1930’s in his run of Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), this is a little scare tale set in the classic setting of the titular isolated building in the Welsh countryside, inhabited by a family of kooks and psychos. One carload of roving visitors gets stuck there, followed by another couple, and as the predicted scary night unfolds, they find out who in the family is crazier than the others.
It’s shot with that tight, quick wit and pacing of the period, in dark shadows and Gothic, Expressionist light and shadow (though mostly shadow). Beyond the lithe script, adapted from a J. B. Priestley novel, and deftly handled by Whale, the cast is absolutely superb. We’ve got Boris Karloff as a mute brute, the brilliant Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Gloria Stuart, and personal favorite Ernest Thesiger as the nervous, fearful host. The whole thing is done with great humor (humour might be more accurate — it’s very British).
Its brevity and its wit and darkness make it a prime choice for such a night as Halloween. My only regret is that I didn’t squeeze it in that night.