A Filmmaker's Review: "The Old Dark House" (1932)
4/5 - An imperfect but incredible story of the strange...
“The Old Dark House” is a 1932 comedy-horror film directed by James Whale and well, it is a pretty hilarious series of events that eventually leads to two people fighting about why one of the guys isn’t allowed to set the house on fire. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t too into this film when it started because it seemed just a bit typical and cliché with all its rain, darkness and people screaming at each other in the middle of the road. However, when you watch the events of the film unfold, there is a huge reason as to why it is raining so incredibly badly to the point of being flooded and the characters not actually being able to get around. The music also fits within this atmosphere of being something tense, something that is building up to a climax. I think that the way in which the music is used to build climax actually goes along with the sound of the lightning. But then again, it would make more sense if we had silence before the lightning striking rather than people talking or music.
The comic aspect of the movie is really quite good because we have a bunch of characters with massive personalities. The men seem to argue about the way in which they conduct themselves whilst the women bond together, presenting some real gender differences. However, when the climax approaches, nobody seems to have a choice about who they like and who they don’t, they just all work together to subdue Boris Karloff and well, they kind of ignore the small man trying to set fire to the house bar one guy who sets up to fight him. The comic dialogue is pretty hilarious to be honest, I didn’t particularly laugh, but I thought it was cleverly written into the script so that it didn’t sound like a joke, rather it sounded like part of the conversation. It sounded like people were simply going at each other rather than people physically going out of their way to make a joke and that is why it worked so well.
The atmosphere in the house is amazing. We have the flickering firelight in which we get this strange and almost uncomfortable atmosphere that kind of hurts your eyes after a while, but the best part of the atmosphere is the way in which the random candlelights and firelights throw shadows literally everywhere in the room, making things seem far more dangerous than they are. At some points in the film, these shadows are also used to produce parts of the action where a woman is basically chased around a room.
The lightning that intervenes in the scenes gives somewhat a satirical look at fright. I don’t think it is actually meant to be scary but instead, it is meant to be more or less expected because none of the characters actually react to it until the lights actually go out. It is really quite funny when the lightning seems to only strike in moments of either tension or in comedic conversation. I think that the balance between these two things, the comedy and the horror, is pretty well done and makes for an excellent viewing experience.
All in all, though this film may not be perfect and though there are some better remakes of this film, I can honestly say that the experience of watching this film purely for entertainment means that it does the job. However, upon looking at the bigger picture, there are things that you notice about the film that may be due to its Pre-Code nature, but there are other things about the film that makes you kind of see the holes in the story. Although the film is a bit primitive, it does represent the weirdness of old cinema in which we notice the oddities of obscure pre-Golden Age pieces which experiment blending genres and character types and really, it works to that point. I hope we all understand that I don’t think this movie is meant to be in any way perfect, but polishing the film could’ve helped the way in which we view the unfolding of events.