Saturday, January 4, 2014

Step into the home of the Femm family, The Old Dark House (1932)

Title: The Old Dark House
Director: James Whale
Language: English
Rating: G

In this freaky and ridiculous horror movie, five people get stranded in the Femm family home, located in a remote corner of Wales. The Femms live in a stew of ruination and resentment. There's the sister, Rebecca (Eva Moore), a bitter and creepy old woman who broods on the sins of the world, especially anything to do with sex and youth. Her scarecrow of a brother, Horace (Ernest Thesiger), sometimes attempts to defy her but is reduced to fits of trembling. Their 102-year-old father is somewhere upstairs. And is there anyone else? Oh yes, the butler, Morgan (Boris Karloff of Frankenstein fame), who's difficult to manage once he starts drinking.

Boris Karloff in The Old Dark House (1932)

The unfortunate guests are a married couple, Philip (Raymond Massey) and Margaret Waverton (Gloria Stuart), and a bachelor, Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), who was traveling with them in their car. Later, a businessman, Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his high-spirited chorus girl companion, Gladys (Lilian Bond), show up seeking refuge from the violent weather that's driven everyone into the Femm home.

Boris Karloff in The Old Dark House (1932)

It's a good ensemble pic, the kind of movie I really enjoy when it's done well. The standout performance for me was Charles Laughton, as a cheery but profoundly sad and lonely loudmouth, though the actors playing the Femm family are also great, and Gloria Stuart is luminous, bringing brightness to the Femm home (Stuart, by the way, played the elderly Rose in Titanic).

There's no gore, and no need of supernatural entities, because people's personalities are gruesome enough. The movie is a mix of creepiness and absurdity. There are some surprisingly funny moments - not obvious jokes, but just the way a character says or does something at a given moment. The whole scenario is over-the-top, and I think the director (also of Frankenstein fame) and everyone else involved with the film made it with playfulness.

*All images link back to their sources (Flixster Community and Wikipedia).