31 Horror Films #26: The Old Dark House 1932 Dir. James Whale

Last year I did a series of daily micro blogs going through the history of horror films by year. This was meant to give people an example of the high points of the genre. This year I'll be doing the same thing, but going off the beaten path to provide some films you may not have heard of. These films may not be up your alley, but they're all interesting.

The Old Dark House 1932 Dir. James Whale

Director James Whale is as much a part of Universal horror films as Bela Legosi and Jack Pierce, Even though he only did four pictures in the film company's horror cycle*. The Old Dark House was Whale's first horror film after the classic smash hit, Frankenstein in 1931. Whale was fond of casting previous collaborators like Boris Karloff as well as his acting teacher, Ernest Thesiger, who would later reappear in the iconic role of Doctor Septimus Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein; both of whom can be seen in this film.

Whale's trademark sense of black humor can be seen in spades in this film and I have to say that when I first watched it, it played much like a proto-Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Karloff's manservant Morgan as Leatherface. The family dinner scene is hilarious and every time I watch it I walk around the house doing a terrible Ernest Thesiger impersonation "Here, have a potato." The Femm family absolutely drips with archetypes from the annals of gothic literature; a world populated by violent drunks, religious fanatics and 102 year old crazy patriarch.

Based off of J.B. Preistley's 1927 novel "Benighted", the film follows a group of lost travelers, run afoul of a creepy family who terrorizes them. That pretty much sums up The Old Dark House, but it is a fun and atmospheric ride. For many years, this film was considered lost, until a print was rediscovered in in the Universal vault in 1962; it was restored, and we are much richer for its rediscovery. While it's not as visually exciting as Whale's Frankenstein pictures, the film plays like an English stage play, which might explain it's success in England while being unnoticed in The States. Featuring powerhouse Charles Laughton in his first Hollywood film, as well as a young Gloria Stuart The Old Dark House is an often overlooked gem.

*Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man

Watch a clip HERE