“Can you conceive of anyone living in a house like this if they didn’t have to?”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary argues, the “film is outrageous from the outset and becomes increasingly bizarre”. Although “Whale displays tongue-in-cheek humor at the beginning to lull viewers into a false sense of security”, he then “plays up the suspense and terror in the final few scenes”. (If you’ve never seen Old Dark House, don’t read reviews, as most will give away spoilers, and it’s much more fun to simply watch how things unfold.) Peary points out that “as always, Whale makes dramatic use of shadows, sound effects, wild angles (especially when filming faces), and dramatic close-ups”, and notes that DP Arthur Edeson provides “standout [cinemato]graphy” which “greatly contributes to the atmosphere” (check out the stills below). Also of note is the stunning make-up work done for both Karloff and (in particular) Dudgeon.
Interestingly, Peary’s review neglects to point out the film’s historical significance as the forerunner of all such “old dark house” films. What’s especially remarkable is how successful Whale is at satirizing the nascent genre he was simultaneously introducing: as creepy as events do eventually become, we’re treated to plenty of campy humor throughout, notably in the laughably mundane romance which immediately flourishes between Douglas and Bond (their dialogue together is priceless), and in some of the banter offered by Thesiger and Moore (who are as kooky as all get out, but never posited as any kind of a genuine threat themselves). Meanwhile, the family members are such a collectively outlandish bunch — and the visitors’ reactions to them so hilariously muted — that, at least until the very end, one can’t help viewing the entire affair as some kind of fantastical joke.
Note: Modern film fanatics will naturally be interested to know that the gorgeous blonde here (Gloria Stuart) is none other than “Old Rose” from Titanic (1997).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: