The Old Dark House is one of James Whale’s first films post-Frankenstein. Set in Wales, it’s about a group of travellers who have to take refuge in an old dark house due to a storm. Based on book by J.B. Priestley, it might even be the origin of this now-tired plot. The house is the home of the Fann family, who are served by a heavy-drinking mute butler called Morgan, who’s played by Boris Karloff. The family are a bit creepy, and soon strange things start happening. It’s not a ghost story, but they definitely have some secrets to hide.
.I don’t like it as well as Frankenstein, which is still one of the most moving films ever made, but it’s pretty good: very atmospheric, and with a bunch of the dark, twisted, camp humour that you expect. Whale had more creative control over The Old Dark House than Frankenstein, and chose a great cast that includes Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stewart and a very young Charles Laughton. Karloff is, of course, fantastic. He was such a great actor: With a face that good you don’t need to say anything.
It’s short at 72 minutes, and delivers exactly what you’d expect from one of the first really quirky filmmakers whose distinctive personality really came through in his movies.
The film was lost for a long time, until cult filmmaker Curtis Harrington (director of Night Tide, Game, and several more) convinced Universal to locate the film during his stint working for the studio. There’s an archival interview with Harrington from the ‘80s re-release on the disc, plus an interview with Karloff’s daughter (who’s the spitting image of her dad…), a new visual essay and a couple of commentaries. The film has also been completely remastered, and had a small theatrical release before the Masters of Cinema release.