Old Dark House
You know that old, foreboding house up on the top of the hill, surrounded by thick forests, and accessible only by a single bridge that has a tendency to wash out during every rainstorm
? Yeah, that one. Have you ever noticed that it always seems to attract eclectic groups of strangers who get invited for the reading of a will or a dinner party with a mysterious host? And why is it that the strangers keep getting killed off, one by one
, during the night? It must be one of them doing it? But which?
Expect many passageways hidden behind bookcases
, usually operated by candlesticks
, portraits with removable eyes for spying
, and the ubiquitous thunder and lightning
. Almost inevitably all methods of communication with the outside world
— especially telephones — will have somehow ceased to function, if they ever existed at all. This was more plausible in the early 20th century, a.k.a. Agatha Christie Time
, when many old dwellings had not yet been fitted with telephones and service in general was commonly more apt to fail. You can also expect the lights to go out several times during the night. (Usually when it's least convenient.)
May or may not be haunted
or have some curse or be hiding a Dark Secret
. If the mystery is set in Europe, this may be a castle
instead of a mansion
. See also Haunted House
, Haunted Castle
which usually are
haunted. In this trope, while a haunting may be real, it is more likely that the mysterious poltergeist is an elaborate hoax
Please keep in mind that not
any old house with poor lighting will do for this trope. This is a classic trope of, and a great set piece for, whodunnit murder mysteries
Anime and Manga
- Umineko: When They Cry: The Rokenjima mansion, complete with being cut off from the rest of the world and its own witch stories.
- The XXX Holic movie A Midsummer's Night Dream takes place in one of these. Though the house itself is the one making the guests disappear.
- The board game Clue (aka Cluedo) is perhaps the best known example of this trope.
- The game Kill Doctor Lucky, which is inspired by Clue, also takes place in such a mansion.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill takes place in one of these. Though you usually know who the bad guy is.
- 13 Dead End Drive is a board game with this as the set piece and the players as potential heirs trying to bump each other off.
- The titular House of Mystery and House of Secrets horror anthologies from DC Comics, which later featured in The Sandman.
- Clue the movie took place inside such a mansion.
- The movie The Old Dark House (1932) (as well as the 1963 remake) is the Trope Namer. In the former, group of characters get stuck on a stormy night in a house with dark history. The latter is a comedy murder mystery concerning a family fortune.
- Both movies are based on an old novel, Benighted, by J.B. Priestly.
- The Monster (1925) might be the earliest example of this trope. The mansion/asylum currently occupied by Dr. Ziska has hidden passageways, hidden trap doors, steel shutters that slide down in front of the windows to prevent escape, and fireplaces rigged to emit knockout gas. And of course it's got Ziska's creepy lab down in the basement.
- Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night is an intentional Affectionate Parody of this genre with a couple of Lampshade Hanging moments.
- An old Bela Lugosi movie called Ghost Story took place in such a mansion. Though since the movie was primarily meant to be humorous, there was no murder involved.
- The Don Knotts film The Private Eyes featured one of these where the house staff are being knocked off one by one some time after the the lord and lady are murdered.
- Murder by Death is one of these movies, only the guests are all pastiches of famous fictional detectives.
- Even though it takes place in a radio station during a live show, The Radioland Murders plays this trope pretty well. The biggest difference is that only certain important people conected to the station are in danger, and not everyone in the building.
- The original House On Haunted Hill is a modernized version of one (the house is a Frank Lloyd Wright creation from 1923). The 1999 remake is more of a traditional Haunted House.
- Xanadu is often presented this way in Citizen Kane.
- The Abbott and Costello movie Hold That Ghost takes place in an old abandoned inn that the boys inherited from a dying gangster.
- An old theatre serves this purpose in The Last Warning. It was closed years ago due to a scandalous murder that went unsolved, and now it's about to be reopened with the same people that were working in it during the incident. The whole thing is actually a set-up to finally catch the culprit.
- Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None took place in a mansion on an island, and the boat wasn't coming back for several days. Notably, the house has the finest modern amenities available in the era. Vera Claythorne comments on it.
- Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger takes place in a decrepit, isolated old manor house in Warwickshire.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Shunned House". Downplayed in that looking from the outside it doesn't seem particularly ominous or special.
- The titular setting for the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook House of Hell is one of these.
- Mildew Manor, a recurring location in Kim Newman's work originally introduced as a Haunted House in the spoof Gothic play of the same title and later used for a variety of "spooky old house" tropes, serves as a whodunnit location in the Anno Dracula short story "Vampire Romance".
- Most of Foxworth Hall in Flowers in the Attic is beautiful, but the giant, labyrinthine, dark, dusty attic with its forgotten relics and creepy schoolroom definitely falls under this trope.
- The titular manor in Murder at Colefax Manor, fitting the trope even further by being set on cliffs above the sea.
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. had an episode that took place on an island during a gathering of famous bounty hunters where someone begins killing them off.
- The show Psych has an episode which is an homage to Old Dark House films in general and the movie Clue specifically, with guest appearances from several of the stars of Clue.
- The premise of the SyFy Game Show Estate of Panic - find cash in an Old Dark House rigged with traps and scary surprises before you are locked inside of it for good.
- Strange Science begins when two teenagers venture inside a seemingly-abandoned dark house, only to find the Mad Scientist and laboratory inside.
- The Cat and the Canary, where a young heiress and her relatives are harassed by a killer.
- The Bat is set at the house of Courtleigh Fleming, the late president of the failed Union Bank. Rumor has it that the money robbed from the bank is stashed in a Hidden Room in the house. In an old country house whose lights tend to fail during storms, candles, pocket flashlights, and wristwatches with illuminated dials all become important items.
- Parodied by the play-within-a-play in The Real Inspector Hound.
- Arsenic and Old Lace somewhat parodies this, being set in an old Victorian house. It's not particularly dark, though its elderly owners disdain electric lighting, and it turns out to have a fair number of places for stashing dead bodies.
- Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap.
- "Out of Sight... Out of Murder" parodies this. A writer rents an old house (where a previous mystery writer vanished "under mysterious circumstances"), to write his murder mystery (he's not sure yet how it will end.) His characters show up, and one of them tries to kill him... but which one?
- The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was originally going to be this trope, but the concept was vetoed early on by Walt Disney who claimed that an abandoned, run-down mansion would look out-of-place on the main road of the otherwise pristine New Orleans Square. The future incarnations of the attraction (such as in Florida and Paris) end up playing this trope straight by having their mansions off of the main road and in their own mini-areas.
- 5 Days a Stranger takes place in one of these.
- One of the Dark Brotherhood mission from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion sends you to one of these, only you are the murderer. (Though it's possible to convince the guests to kill each other.)
- Lucius plays this trope much like the Dark Brotherhood mission from Oblivion. You play a child of the devil who must kill everyone else in the house without arousing suspicion.
- The Verlac mansion, in the title town of Anchorhead, has hidden passageways, unsettling paintings, windows painted shut, and a Madman in the Attic.
- The Shin-Ra Mansion in Final Fantasy VII is unusual in that the hidden evil in it is not some creature, but records of experiments of mad science. Sephiroth (a former test subject) goes mad from reading there records, and emerges from the house as the Big Bad of the game.
- The best Nancy Drew games often take place in one of these. In particular, Blackmoor Manor and Thornton Hall are excellent examples of the trope.
- Neverending Nightmares begins in one, where Thomas and his sister Gabby live. And taking place inside of a nightmare, it only grows more dark and desolate as the plot advances.
- Episode 6 of Minecraft: Story Mode will be this with several Minecraft You Tubers and the game's protagonists being the guests of "The White Pumpkin."
- This is a staple of Scooby-Doo and many of its imitators, though the victims are usually just kidnapped instead of murdered.
- This is played with on a episode of The Simpsons, Homer's Aunt has passed away, and her will demands that the Simpson family must spend a night in an allegedly haunted house. Cut to the family entering the house, Homer declaring "There's no such thing as ghosts." The next morning, the family is well-rested, refreshed, having slept better and the water was better too.
- The were-car episode of Futurama begins with Bender inheriting one of these of a dead uncle, prompting the following exchange:
'Lawyer (reading Will): "To my nephew, Bender, I leave my castle..."
'Bender: "Woohoo! Let's stay there tonight!"
'Lawyer: "...on the condition that he stay there tonight."
'Bender: "Ah crap! There's always a catch..."
- The castle itself turns out to be full of robot-themed spookiness such as paintings with mechanized eyes which follow motion sensors, the Windows start-up music echoing through the halls, 666 in written in binary appearing backwards in the mirrors, etc.
- The old Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends had an episode where The Chameleon invited Spider-Man and six other heroes to an island he owns and filled with traps so he could impersonate them, sowing distrust, and then kill them. He even uses a Ten Little Indians-style rhyme.
- In an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman becomes a vampire and invites several heroes to the Justice League satellite, which quickly becomes an Old Dark House, as he takes them out, one by one.