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The Old Dark House

Movie Information

In Brief: This year's Halloween offering from the Asheville Film Society is James Whale's classic — and long considered lost — The Old Dark House, starring Boris Karloff. Stranded by a rainstorm and landslides, a group of travelers takes refuge with a very peculiar family in an old, dark house. The film is one of the delights of Golden Age horror — as much a black comedy as a horror film when all is said and done. That's not to say there's no menace (oh, there's plenty of that), but it's all underscored with dark and extremely quirky humor. Essential viewing.
Genre: Black Comedy Horror
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Ernest Thesiger, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Lilian Bond, Eva Moore
Rated: NR

Every Halloween, the Asheville Film Society has run an Old-Dark-House comedy-thriller. There was Bob Hope’s The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940), then the Old-Dark-House musical You’ll Find Out (1940), which pitted big-band leader Kay Kyser against Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. This year, it’s the Old-Dark-House movie — James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932). No, it’s not by any means the first Old-Dark-House movie, but it’s the only one adapted from the J.B. Priestley novel by that name (though in Britain, the book was called Benighted). (We will not discuss that 1963 abomination by the same title.) The movie — believed to be lost for years — was Whale’s followup to Frankenstein, and the first horror picture designed as a starring vehicle for Boris Karloff.

It’s ironic then that Karloff’s role as the mute, mad and possibly murderous butler is not the center of attention — the filmmaking is. This is every inch a director’s picture. It’s about a group of travelers — Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, Lillian Bond — stranded by a landslide during a thunderstorm in the Welsh Mountains. They end up (despite Massey’s reservations that “it might be wisest to move on”) staying the night with the very peculiar Femm family in an — you guessed it — old and dark house.The house is lorded over by Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), a religious fanatic fond of announcing, “No beds! They can’t have beds!” Her more hospitable but no less odd brother Horace (Ernest Thesiger) likes drinking gin, sneering at his sister, and hinting at dark secrets. There’s also a 102-year-old patriarch (actually played by a woman) upstairs — and something far more unsettling at the very top of the house. It’s all stylish, spooky fun that’s as much (or more) a dark comedy as a horror film — and a very fine one.

Full original review here

The Asheville Film Society will screen The Old Dark House Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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