The Old Dark House – UK, 1962

‘The murder mystery with a difference: you die laughing!’

The Old Dark House is a 1962 British comedy-horror film directed by William Castle (The Tingler; Mr. Sardonicus; House on Haunted Hill; et al) from a screenplay by Robert Dillon (X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes) for Hammer Films. It is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name directed by James Whale, both loosely based on the novel Benighted by J. B. Priestley.

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Tom Penderel, an American car salesman living in London, delivers a car to an old mansion in Dartmoor and discovers that his eccentric former roommate, Casper Femm, is dead.

Tom is invited to stay at the house by members of Casper’s family, including his twin brother Jasper, and his nieces, the demure young Cecily and the seductive Morgana.

Each of the relatives is required to return to the dilapidated mansion before midnight each evening or forfeit his share of the family fortune. During the night, one of the Femm family dies every hour…

Reviews:

” …the house itself seems neither very old nor very dark (and if there’s no shortage of money in the family, why don’t they get the leaky roof fixed?), and far too much of the running time is spent on padding scenes of Tom Penderel being chased around by Uncle Morgan.” And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

“There is very little about his version of The Old Dark House that can be considered horror or even in the vein of macabre comedy any longer – a few jokes about corpses in coffins but mostly some not terribly funny gags with Tom Poston getting his tie in a bowl of acid and the like.” Richard Scheib, Moria

“When compared with the James Whale original upon which it is based, this remake of The Old Dark House is pretty sorry stuff.” Craig Butler, Allmovie

” …the picture looks very nice indeed but fails miserably to frighten or amuse […] the film’s only real touch of distinction is provided by Bernard Robinson’s magnificently dilapidated sets; indeed, bits of them would reappear in The Kiss of the Vampire…” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema

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“Much like Terence Fisher’s The Horror of It All (1964), this strains to be kooky and strange, but its self-conscious spoofery can’t match the black humour and genuine creepiness Whale brought to the material. What it does have going for it is a great cast of British comedy icons… Andrew Pragasam, The Spinning Image

“The list of successful horror comedies is a short one, and unfortunately, The Old Dark House is not on it. It is not difficult to watch, being just “sick” enough to be occasionally funny but Hammer plus Castle did not add up to much.” Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography

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” …a travesty which has nothing to do with the 1932 film and possesses no merit of its own. The cast is left floundering” John Walker (editor), Halliwell’s Film and Video Guide

“So outrageously bad that it becomes enjoyable…” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“I expected very little and was pleasantly surprised. The script probably should have taken more chances, more opportunities with Old Dark House conventions. But the old decaying house looks great in color, and the cast is perfectly in sync with gifted comic actor Tom Poston (best known to my generation from the Newhart TV series) and gifted character actor Robert Morley…” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers 

” …a laboriously arch and broad blend of humor and the creeps. It still leaves the old J. B. Priestley property as defunct as a doornail. Even a picturesque cast, headed by Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott and, especially, Joyce Grenfell, can’t rejuvenate it.’ Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

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“Thoroughly terrible remake of the 1932 movie completely failing as either a horror movie or a comedy spoof. No chills, no thrills and no laughs.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

“Tom Poston, who had previously starred in Castle’s lame comedy Zotz! was unwisely chosen for the lead in The Old Dark House. Even a supporting cast of brilliant British character actors couldn’t overcome Poston’s annoying and unfunny performance.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

“Some of the deaths are pretty ingenious but still can’t save the film. Not only does this fail as a horror film and a comedy, but it’s a pretty useless whodunit, too […] The Old Dark House also features possibly the worst animal attack in the history of cinema. An indeterminate, obviously stuffed creature is subjected to endless close-ups, with a faint snarling sound in the background. The special effects team somehow attempted to make the thing salivate.” Ryan Taylor, The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960 – 1969

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“Castle is heavy-handed, the script is too far away from the source, and the colour film stock just takes away from any atmosphere. The fact that Bull and Morley used to trade their best lines with each other over smoked salmon for lunch gives you an idea of the sort of film it was…” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films

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Cast and characters:

  • Tom Poston as Tom Penderel – Aaahh!!! Real Monsters TV series
  • Robert Morley as Roderick Femm – The Wind; Theatre of Blood; A Study in Terror
  • Janette Scott as Cecily Femm – Paranoiac; The Day of the Triffids
  • Joyce Grenfell as Agatha Femm
  • Mervyn Johns as Potiphar Femm – The Day of the Triffids; Dead of Night
  • Fenella Fielding as Morgana Femm – Carry On Screaming!
  • Peter Bull as Caspar/Jasper Femm – Footsteps in the Fog
  • Danny Green as Morgan Femm
  • John Harvey as Club Receptionist
  • Amy Dalby as Gambler [uncredited]

Filming locations:

  • Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green, Berkshire, England, UK
  • Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, England, UK
  • Oakley Court, Windsor Road, Oakley Green, Windsor, Berkshire, England, UK

Trivia:

  • The drawings in the title sequence were by Charles Addams, whose whole career was apparently inspired by the 1932 version of The Old Dark House (1932).
  • Filmed from 19th April to 22nd June 1962, the film was released in the US by Columbia in 1963 (in black and white!) and in the UK in 1966, having been cut to secure a BBFC ‘A’ rating.
  • William Castle does not even mention The Old Dark House in his autobiography, Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America

Wikipedia | IMDb

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