The Old Dark House (1932) begins when married couple Phillip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart) and their friend Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), get caught in a violent rainstorm that leaves them drenched and unable to continue any further. They wind up at a creepy gothic mansion and to their relief are offered shelter, but it turns out the inhabitants are as dark and sinister as the house itself. We meet Horace, the strange old man and his furious wife Rebecca, played brilliantly by Eva Moore. Most sinister of all though, is the Frankenstein-esque monster of a butler, Morgan, who despite being mute leaves the biggest impression throughout this film. As the first couple sit uneasily eating dinner with their peculiar acquaintances, another stranded pair come bursting in looking for shelter from the storm, Sir William Porterhouse and his bubbly lady friend Gladys. The party soon come to the realisation that this house is holding some dark secrets.
There is some amusement to be gained from the first half of this film. The love story that develops between Penderel and Gladys is entertaining enough, but doesn’t dominate the story. The old lady, played by Eva Moore, inspires the most laughs with her exaggerated deafness and furious temper. We know there is a secret or two that are to be uncovered as the film continues, but when they finally are revealed, it comes as a bit of a let down.
James Whale, who directed Frankenstein the previous year, uses Boris Karloff as his monster again in The Old Dark House. He reportedly also used all the same cinematic techniques, which means that aesthetically these two films are very similar. There is, however, not enough back-story in order to become emotionally involved with these characters. It is true to the genre of gothic horror, with a sprinkling of comedy and romance intertwined in this strange storyline. As entertaining as it is, the plotline left me feeling slightly unsatisfied, however there are some standout scenes, especially the scene in which Penderel meets the psychotic secret brother, Saul, and tries to calm his murderous rage. The Old Dark House is a fun look at 1930’s cinema, and offers some entertainment. It will appeal especially to fans of gothic cinema.
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