Movie Name: The Old Dark House
Studio: William Castle-Hammer
Release Date(s): October 30, 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Tom Penderel (Tom Poston) is up for a strange weekend. When he goes to deliver a car to his sometimes roommate Caspar Femm (Peter Bull), he finds Femm dead and his eccentric family in the Femm family home trapped by the confines of a bizarre will. When the Femms begin to die, Tom must determine who the killer is before he becomes the next victim!
Directed by William Castle, The Old Dark House is an adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s 1927 novel Benighted which was originally made into The Old Dark House in 1932 by Frankenstein director James Whale. The movie was largely panned by critics.
Horror comedies are one of the trickiest types of films to get right. A horror movie that is bad generally becomes a comedy on its own so a horror comedy must not cross over into this bad horror comedy. The Old Dark House is a “wacky” movie and I can’t always get in line with wacky movies.
The movie isn’t very balanced. The tone of the humor is one of Arsenic and Old Lace with darkness and murder happening and others question who is next…but not doing much to save each other. It is leads to a lot of running around and pratfalls with the bizarre family that is full of characters and “fun”.
Tom Poston is the square trapped with the eccentrics in the movie. Poston’s lifeline is Janette Scott who plays the “normal” member of the Femm family but everyone else is intentionally overacting as members of a family who might be mentally unbalanced. It is a stylistic type of acting, and it probably won’t sit well with everyone who watches it.
The movie is borderline camp. William Castle was known for being stingy with his budgets and the movie is very set based. Despite this, Castle makes the most of his sets and the movie looks pretty good in that sense (except for the obviously stuffed hyena that they try to pass off as a real hyena). The film was shot in color but initially released in black-and-white…and it might do better in black-and-white to get the tone a little darker.
The Old Dark House isn’t very good and it doesn’t leave me wanting to see the original that is considered good. It is horror comedy but the type of horror comedy that isn’t ironic or entirely clever. It feels like a throwback movie, but in 1963, I would have expected more than just a goofy comedy.