Director James Whale will always be associated with the Classic Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff but is also known by cinema aficionados as a director of great quality and he did 3 other films for Universal, the brilliant Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Invisible Man (1933) and the almost forgotten The Old Dark House (1932).
The reason for this film is the least known is because it performed badly at the box office in the USA and, due to Universal losing the rights to the story in the 1950s, the film was at one time considered lost. A massive fan of the film, director Curtis Harrington pleaded with Universal a number of times to find a negative and they finally found a print in the vaults.
Now after a short theatrical run, Eureka in the UK have released it onto Blu Ray in a beautiful remastered special edition.
Mr and Mrs Waverton ( Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart) and a friend Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) are lost after trying to drive through a terrible storm in Wales and decide to seek shelter in a remote house they stumble across. They are soon joined by two other weary travellers and they all try to settle for the night. The house is run by the very odd Femm family and their mute butler, Morgan (Boris Karloff) and after reluctantly agreeing to let them stay things start to take a terrifying turn as they realise that someone else is loose in the house and that the family has a few nasty skeletons hiding in the closet.
The film is brilliantly shot and very atmospheric and has a wicked streak of humour running through it. It has a short running time only just over 70 minutes, but the suspense builds very nicely and the way the house is shot gives it a very gothic feel. Boris Karloff is very menacing in his scarred makeup and uses his features and body language brilliantly as he has no dialogue to speak. The ending may seem a little flat after what has gone on before, but this classic is definitely worth revisiting.
The Blu ray by Eureka is sourced from a new 4K remaster and for most of the time looks fabulous although a few early scenes look a bit faded and flat. Seeing as the film was once thought lost they have done a remarkable job of restoring it to the condition you can now see it. Audio has uncompressed mono and for a film of this vintage sounds fine.
A great selection of extras are available on this release including:
- An exclusive and informative video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns
- Feature-length audio commentary by critic and author Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
- Feature-length audio commentary by Gloria Stuart
- Feature-length audio commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis
- Daughter of Frankenstein: A Conversation with Sara Karloff in which she discusses her father’s career and The Old Dark House.
- Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House – a very interesting archival interview with director Curtis Harrington about his efforts to save The Old Dark House at a time when it was considered a lost film
- Trailer for the 2018 theatrical re-release of The Old Dark House
- A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by critic Philip Kemp, as well as an abundant selection of archival imagery and ephemera. Very well researched and written.
Sure it’s a bit creaky now but considering when it was made and the superb direction by James Whale any true horror fan should view this now.
FILM: 7.5 PICTURE: 8 AUDIO: 7 EXTRAS: 9