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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)

This creaky old horror film from Universal is great fun - a group of travellers have to take shelter in an old house in Penrhys when they become caught in a ferocious storm and set upon by the people of the Rhondda Valleys. Only kidding, the real plot follows:


Seeking shelter from a pounding rainstorm in a remote region of Wales, several travellers are admitted to a gloomy, foreboding mansion belonging to the extremely strange Femm family. Trying to make the best of it, the guests must deal with their sepulchral host, Horace Femm and his obsessive, malevolent sister Rebecca. Things get worse as the brutish manservant Morgan gets drunk, runs amuck and releases the long pent-up brother Saul, a psychotic pyromaniac who gleefully tries to destroy the residence by setting it on fire.

Following the standard structure of  a horror film director, James Whale created a camp masterpiece that holds its ground even today. The performances are uniformly excellent, especially from Boris Karloff as brutish butler, Morgan and Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm. There are also some brilliant lines in a superbly crafted script.

"Even Welsh ought not to sound like that," one character remarks after mad butler, Morgan greets them with a series of grunts.

Another exchange between characters goes:

Margaret Waverton: It's a dreadful night.
Rebecca Femm: What?
Margaret Waverton: I said it's a dreadful night.
Rebecca Femm: Yes, it's a very old house. Very old.
Margaret Waverton: It's very kind of you to let us stay.
Rebecca Femm: What?
Margaret Waverton: I say you're very kind.
Rebecca Femm: Yes it is a dreadful night. I'm a little deaf.
Margaret Waverton: I understand.
Rebecca Femm: Yes. No beds!
 The film does create a remarkable atmospheric feeling of unease in the viewer and with the modern tweaks to sound and picture it provides a great viewing experience. The storm, reproduced on a good sound system, shakes the windows and the film takes on the feeling of an intimate stage play.


It's not really dated at all - sure it looks old and creaky but the theme, acting and sheer style of the piece gives it a timeless quality. As good as ever

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