streaming horror the old dark house

Welcome to 31 Days of Streaming Horror. Every day this October we’ll be highlighting a different streaming horror movie to help you get into the Halloween spirit. Today’s entry: The Old Dark House (1932).

The Old Dark House
Now Streaming on Shudder and The Criterion Channel

Sub-Genre: Horror-comedy bordering on camp

Best Setting to Watch It In: An old dark house, obviously

How Scary Is It?: It’s not scary at all, but, boy oh boy, is it fun

After Frankenstein (1931) and before Bride of Frankenstein (1935), director James Whale reteamed with Boris Karloff for The Old Dark House. Karloff is once again playing a hulking mute brute and Old Dark House is filled with plenty of scenes of flashing lightning, but this is far removed from Whale’s first Frankenstein film.

Whale leans into the silliness of the situation rather than the horror, and the results are delightful. The story concerns a group of travelers –  Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart (who would go on to play Old Rose in Titanic), Melvyn DouglasCharles Laughton, and Lilian Bond – all end up trapped in an old dark house in the midst of a heavy storm. The house is owned by the mysterious Horace Femm, played by Ernest Thesiger, who would go on to play the memorable Doctor Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein. Femm is very anxious about his unwanted houseguests, and he keeps warning them that his creepy mute butler (Karloff) is potentially dangerous.

Nonetheless, our travelers stay rather than venture out into the storm. As the night wears on, tensions and tempers flare, and since this was a pre-Code film, Whale was able to get away with plenty of not-too-subtle sexual undertones lurking beneath the story. The travelers trapped in Femm’s house soon find themselves in danger, and before long, Karloff’s mute butler is staggering around with murder in his eyes.

Loaded with atmosphere and featuring more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, The Old Dark House feels as fresh and alive today as it did almost 90 years ago. For years, The Old Dark House was considered to be lost. But in 1968, a print of the film was found tucked away in Universal Studio’s vaults – where it was no doubt covered in spider webs and surrounded by flickering candles and a few skulls. The Old Dark House print was eventually restored to near-pristine quality by the Cohen Film Collection, and now it’s available for all to stream.

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