The Old Dark House (1932)

Genres - Horror, Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Haunted House Film, Horror Comedy  |   Release Date - Oct 20, 1932 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 72 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Although little seen since its original release, The Old Dark House (1932) had by the 1960s attained a grail-like status among fans of director James Whale, whose beloved Universal horror films included Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The least successful of this quartet of fright classics, The Old Dark House came to be reconsidered a cult gem, part of the renewal of interest in Whale's talents many years after his creative peak. Whale's protégé and friend Curtis Harrington, who went on to become a director in his own right, rescued The Old Dark House from oblivion in 1968, after it had languished on Universal's shelves. Harrington repeatedly asked the studio to locate the negative, then convinced Kodak's Eastman House to finance the creation of a new duplicate negative of the unsalvageable first reel. Without his intervention, The Old Dark House would probably not have survived in any form. Harrington's heroics complete, The Old Dark House was seen once again in its original form after many years of speculation based on recollections of those who had seen the original, some beautiful set stills that had become popular collectibles, and European critics who had viewed post-WWII prints. Predictably, some Whale fans were disappointed in the film's scant thrills and chills. The story, based on the novel Benighted by J.B. Priestley, indeed lacked the shocks and scares of Whale's three other horror standards, eschewing the fantastic for more psychological suspense. Nevertheless, The Old Dark House contained all the other essential ingredients of the director's style, including moody shot compositions, mocking humor, witty dialogue, and sly hints of sexuality. Critics hailed it as one of Whale's gothic masterpieces, and The Old Dark House rightly took its place among the director's best-regarded titles. There are several interesting footnotes of interest to fans. Like other films of its time, The Old Dark House had no musical score, featuring music only over the credits. The portrayal of the hulking, primitive butler Morgan by Boris Karloff inspired Charles Addams to create his own butler character for his famed "Addams Family" cartoons, the character later dubbed "Lurch." Though credited in the film as "John Dudgeon," the part of aged patriarch Sir Roderick Femm was actually played by a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon. And female lead Gloria Stuart provided an amusing voiceover audio commentary for the film's laserdisc release. On hearing it, director James Cameron first thought of casting her in the pivotal role of Old Rose in his upcoming film Titanic (1997), for which Stuart was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, 65 years after The Old Dark House.