Film Review: The Old Dark House

Whilst he railed against being typecast as a horror director, James Whale is unquestionable one of the most important pioneers of genre cinema. He virtually (re)invented Gothic Horror and had a huge influence on directors in the 1960s and ‘70s. Today, his depiction of Mary Shelley’s macabre creation in the 1931 film Frankenstein is the film he’s best remembered for. However, he was a skilful and nimble purveyor of terror. Once considered a ‘lost film’, The Old Dark House was a pivotal moment in many ways and remains one of his best.

During a tumultuous storm, Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey), his wife Margaret (Gloria Stuart), and friend Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) take shelter for the night in an old house. The trio are reluctantly offered a haven from the storm by an elderly brother (Ernest Thesiger) and sister (Eva Moore). They’re subsequently joined by Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton), whose car has broken down, and his chorus girl companion Gladys (Lilian Bond). It soon becomes apparent to the guests that something strange is going on in the house, and when the creepy butler Morgan (Boris Karloff) gets hold of the alcohol, they could all be in trouble.

The new restored version of The Old Dark House looks absolutely magnificent. Based on a play by J.B. Priestly, the script is as impressive as you’d expect. Whale mixes massacre humour with a gripping plot to make one of the first great ‘creepy-house’ movies. The house itself is a treasure-trove of terror and the thunderstorm provides a perfect backdrop. The Old Dark House is a marvellous horror film which still retains the same sense of creeping awe and wonder as it must have held back 1932.

The 4k restoration of The Old Dark House is in cinemas from 27 April.

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