17 July 2014 | Coventry
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
One would expect a collaboration between the American director William Castle and the British production studios Hammer to result in a terrific must-see film, considering they were both horror genre giants in their respective continents during the early sixties. Castle became world famous and appreciated thanks to his morbidly themed but nevertheless light-headed Gothic horror spectacles ("House on Haunted Hill", "Mr. Sardonicus", "13 Ghosts"
), and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Hammer studios boomed with the gruesome re-imaging of the legendary Universal classics from the thirties ("Dracula", "The Mummy", "Frankenstein"
). Knowing this, "The Old Dark House" seems to be the ideal marriage, since it's more or less a remake of the underrated 1932 Universal masterpiece and a great opportunity for a director like Castle to showcase his creativity. Strangely enough, however, the film is somewhat of a disappointment and it's only rescued from inglorious mediocrity thanks to a handful of nice gags and an entertaining final act; including a surprising plot-twist and an exciting race against the clock – literally! The rest of the film clumsily bounces back and forth between talkative mystery and immature comedy. Please don't get me wrong, "The Old Dark House" is never boring and I still prefer it over most of the soulless horror junk being released nowadays, but I simply expected a little bit more
American car salesman Tom Penderel drives out to the god-forsaken British countryside in order to deliver a car at the request of his odd pal Caspar Femm. The two share an apartment, but they never see each other since Caspar always mysteriously vanishes before midnight. When he arrives at the sinister Femm country estate, he learns that all the eccentric family members are obliged to stay at the house and gather at midnight, or otherwise they lose the rights to their part of the inheritance of their notorious ancestor (a pirate). Synchronous with Tom's arrival, the family members are being killed off one by one. Tom should leave while, but he fell for the charming cousin Cecily and the remaining Femms suspect him to be the killer. "The Old Dark House" begins delightfully, with animated opening credits by none other than Charles Addams – the creator of the immortal blackly comical series "The Addams Family – and brings forward several great Gothic aspects, like a moody old castle and never-ending thunderstorms. Some of the supportive characters are also uniquely bizarre, like the crazy uncle who's building an arc or the grandmother that doesn't stop knitting, but overall the film isn't absurd or spooky enough. The actual "horror" footage in the film is limited, a few inventive death scenes and a laughably inept moment with a stuffed hyena.