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Film / The Old Dark House (1932)

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The Old Dark House is a Universal Horror movie from the year 1932. It is based on the 1927 novel Benighted by J. B. Priestley. It was directed by James Whale and features Boris Karloff among its cast. Both men previously contributed to the 1931 Frankenstein.

In the countryside of Wales, several people are caught up in a raging storm and seek shelter inside an eerie mansion they come by. There they meet the dysfunctional Femm family and their brutish servant, Morgan. As the night continues, the troubled past of the Femm family starts to threaten our heroes, mainly in the form of the locked-up and dangerously crazy Saul.

Charles Laughton appears in one of his first big film roles as Sir William Porterhouse. Melvyn Douglas is Roger, the Deadpan Snarker in this ensemble. Gloria Stuart stars as Margaret, 65 years before she appeared in Titanic, while Raymond Massey has an early role as her husband Philip.

In 1963, William Castle directed a comedic version of Priestley's story, The Old Dark House.

It was a dark and stormy night, and the following tropes made themselves apparent:

  • Attempted Rape: Morgan was in the process of dragging Margaret off for this before being thwarted by her husband.
  • Axe Before Entering: Morgan manages to get out of the kitchen (where he was locked in by the male cast) by breaking through its door.
  • Big Fun: Subverted. When Sir William Porterhouse enters the Femm household with a lady friend of his, he is quick to laugh and make jokes. But as the night goes on, it becomes evident that he is regretful invidual who really misses his late wife.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Saul attacks Roger with a chair, which is in pieces after two hits. With him out cold, he then tries to burn down the house.
  • Compensated Dating: Gladys tells Roger that while Sir William pays her to hang out with him, Sir William "doesn't expect anything. You know what I mean by 'anything', don't you?"
  • Crosscast Role: The actor that plays the elderly father, Sir Roderick Femm, is credited as a man named John Dudgeon but is actually played by Elspeth Dudgeon, a woman.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Morgan, the alcoholic butler.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Morgan cradles the dying Saul in his arms.
  • Dramatic Drop: Horace drops the vase he is holding when he hears that the storm has cut off the roads.
  • Everybody Lives: Debatable in Saul's case, but still highly rare for a horror film.
  • Failsafe Failure: Morgan was brought into the servitude to stop Saul if he ever would escape. Morgan befriended him instead and is more likely to let Saul out than anything else.
  • Fanservice: Margaret changes outfits, giving the audience a good look at her in a slip.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Roger and Gladys agree to marry after knowing each other for a single night.
  • Improvised Weapon: When his fists prove inadequate to stop Morgan, Phillip throws a lamp at him, which sends him tumbling down the stairs.
  • In Vino Veritas: When drunk, Morgan becomes violent and dangerous to others.
  • Laughing Mad: Before Saul appears on camera, only his laughter tells about his presence.
  • Look Behind You: Roger attempts to trick Saul by pointing at nothing and telling him that Morgan has come to get him. Saul quickly retorts by throwing his knife at him.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Saul is kept locked up in the attic due to his Pyromaniac and anti-social behavior.
  • Old, Dark House: The Trope Namer, although the trope is older, dating back to Lon Chaney's The Monster and the stage productions of The Cat and the Canary.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Morgan carries off Saul in his arms when he finds him slumped on the floor.
  • Psychotic Smirk: A closeup on Morgan's face shows him smirking before he starts chasing Margaret around.
  • Pyromaniac: Saul discusses his love of open flame and tries to burn the house down.
  • Red Right Hand: Morgan is a brute, and the scar on his nose can attest to that.
  • Sarcasm Mode:
    Rebecca: No beds, they can't have beds.
    Horace: As my sister hints, I'm afraid, no beds.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Margaret puts one on; it proves less than practical when fleeing from psychotic rapey butlers.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto Morgan's face as he's menacing Margaret.
  • The Unintelligible: Morgan is a dimwitted mute, who can communicate only through mumbling, growling and hand gestures.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Once he gets out of his room, Saul pretends to be a victim of family plotting, and insists to Roger that he isn't mad. But once he takes hold of a knife, he starts to have problems keeping up with that story.