Night #28: The Old Dark House (1963)

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Oh, you have no idea. Every night in this house, with just a whole family of Femms.”
(Trust me, this works better in the movie)

Directed By: William Castle

Well here we are, yet another appearance from William Castle. I honestly don’t plan these things. It’s strange, I have a recollection of watching The Old Dark House but I have no idea which one. I had reviewed the original some time ago, but that wasn’t it. Well actually I’m lying it must’ve been, seeing as there are only two versions.

Directed by William Castle, this time without a gimmick, The Old Dark House concerns an American, Tom, who shares a flat with Casper. In their arrangement, Casper gets it in the day and Tom gets it at night. Casper, you see, returns to his family home in Dartmoor every evening. He has too, for reasons he doesn’t disclose just yet.

Tom gets to the house (Via a trapdoor) only to find that Casper has died after falling down the stairs. While there he gets to meet the rest of the family, the members of whom never leave. He also learns there’s a lot of money to inherit. And as we learned back with The Black Cat, money usually means murder.

I’m not actually sure why this was called The Old Dark House. Beyond the most basic of setups (Man visits a house, meets a crazed family) it’s largely different from either the original movie or the novel. It’s also much more slanted towards comedy than scares. It feels more like an Ealing studios movie (This was actually a Hammer co-production), which is fine but…well it’s also not that funny either, and most of it just sort of plods along. Despite that I will admit there are one or two good lines in there. After a woman is found stabbed to death with knitting needles, one character comments “It must’ve been murder, she was always such a careful knitter.” I don’t know, it got a laugh from me at least.

The Old Dark House is a real Sunday hangover movie rather than something to watch on a Friday night, and despite my misgivings about it (There’s a lot of slapstick that only the French would find amusing), there is something comforting and easy to watch about that. Still, it manages to feel a little outdated it, even for the time. Perhaps it’s the colour. It was originally shot in colour but released in black and white, and I can’t help but think that it might’ve improved things a little. Granted it wouldn’t have made it any funnier, but there’s something about this sort of setup that better suits black and white.

To give some thoughts on what William Castle thought of it, he doesn’t give it a mention in his autobiography, jumping from Mr Sardonicus which he made before, to Straitjacket which was made after. Even the documentary on Castle, Scare Your Pants Off doesn’t talk about it.

So there we have it I don’t really have a lot to say. I suppose there’s some charm to it if you enjoy mid-60s comedies, and a complete lack of scares.

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