The Old Dark House (1932)

Rating: B

Dir: James Whale
Star: Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff

This deliciously-loopy early incarnation of ‘spam in a cabin’, has three travellers stuck in a castle owned by Horace Femm and his sister Rebecca. Horace is relatively normal, despite a fondness for non sequiturs such as “I like gin.” Rebecca, meanwhile, is deaf, religious and mad as a loon, specializing in Puritanical rants containing phrases like “brazen, lolling creatures in silks and satins”. Then there’s mute, mean drunk, manservant Morgan (Karloff), another couple (Laughton and Bond) who miraculously end up at the same location on the same night, and the fact that this place appears to be some kind of Advent castle, with a surprise to be found behind every door. Maybe something good… Maybe something bad…

Oh, who am I trying to kid? Given the bizarreness of the Femm family members who are allowed to roam the castle, it’s hardly a spoiler to mention that the ones who are kept out of sight are at least a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic hamper. Stunning to realise this was helmed by the director of the classic Frankenstein, since it’s far more a horror parody than anything else; it’s as if Dario Argento did Scary Movie 5. There’s a massively sarcastic quality about much of the dialogue that remains fresh and invigorating more than seventy years later; much of this apparently comes directly from the source novel by J.B.Priestley, though I can’t speak to that.

Seeing Frankenstein’s monster and Quasimodo in the same pic is also appealing, and all the actors go at it with gusto befitting the material [one of the stranded travellers, Gloria Stuart, would go on to play the elderly Rose in Titanic]. You just never know what’s going to be round the next corner and, while what’s there may or may not make sense – at one point, drapes are set ablaze, then everyone seems to forget about it and it’s never mentioned again – it certainly is a lot of fun.