The bona fides of the 1932 film The Old Dark House should be enough to recommend it. Directed by James Whale, fresh off the success of the previous year's Frankenstein, The Old Dark House features the star of Whale's previous film, Boris Karloff, alongside Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, and Raymond Massey, among others. It's a road map for hundreds of films which would follow: a couple lost in the countryside, takes refuge in a mysterious house, where they meet the strange caretakers thereof. Several others join them, the crowd discovers the secrets, and everything goes awry.
The bona fides are pretty swell, but the picture itself is quite a romp. Whale's direction, based on J. B. Priestley's 1927 novel, Benighted, makes The Old Dark House sort of a half-and-half picture. The first half is pre-Code horror - Stuart's Margaret Waverton strips down far more than would soon be allowed, and Lilian Bond's chorus girl, Gladys DuCane, is allowed too much fun for a latter-era picture - mixed with a screwball comedy, largely due to Laughton's blusteringly broad Sir William Porterhouse.
It's wacky fun, mixed with creepy elements like Karloff's monstrous butler, Morgan, and the ancient scion of the family hidden away in an upstairs bedroom. What's fun about the whole picture is that Whale manages to blend the two elements together quite well, and while it's readily apparent this was mostly shot on some soundstage, the design makes it as close to an ancient Welsh near-castle as possible.
When looking back at some old Universal horror pictures, especially Dracula, it's astonishing how poorly the look and feel of the film has aged. However, the Cohen Film Collection's new 4k restoration makes The Old Dark House look vibrant and crisp, and the audio is crystal clear. Given the fact that the film was essentially lost for the better part of three decades, it's quite astonishing to see how well the film has been restored.
Given that The Old Dark House is a forgotten gem in the career of master horror maker James Whale, as well as a showcase for several notable actors early in their careers, it's quite worth seeking out in this new restoration. Watching it, the viewer will discover that the likes of The Cabin in the Woods, The Evil Dead, and more all had their start half a century before.
THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JAMES WHALE / SCREENPLAY: BENN V. LEVY / STARRING: BORIS KARLOFF, MELVYN DOUGLAS, CHARLES LAUGHTON, ERNEST THESIGER, LILIAN BOND / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 27TH (4K CINEMA RE-RELEASE), MAY 21ST (BD/DVD)