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Film / The Old Dark House (1963)

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A 1963 horror comedy film directed by William Castle, who co-produced it with Hammer Films, this was the second screen adaptation of the novel Benighted by J. B. Priestley, albeit a much looser one than the 1932 film of the same name.

Tom Penderel (Tom Poston), an American working in London as a car salesman, is asked by his flatmate Caspar Femm (Peter Bull), who's convinced that his life is in danger, to deliver a new convertible to his ancestral home in the Dartmoor countryside.

There, Tom meets the rest of Caspar's eccentric family — including his twin brother, Jasper (Bull); his parents, Roderick (Robert Morley) and Agatha (Joyce Grenfell); his uncle, Potiphar (Mervyn Johns); his nieces, Cecily (Janette Scott) and Morgana (Fenella Fielding); and Morgana's father, Morgan (Danny Green) — and gets caught up in a murder mystery centered around the Femms' vast family fortune.

This film has examples of the following tropes:

  • Animated Credits Opening: Featuring background art by none other than Charles Addams.
  • The Ark: Potiphar is convinced that another biblical flood is imminent, and has built an ark, complete with animals, in the backyard of the Femm house.
  • Backup Twin: Immediately after Casper's murder, Tom meets his identical twin brother Jasper, who is also quite similar to Casper in personality.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Tom tries to deter Morgan by breaking a chair on his head, to no avail.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Cecily is blown up with one of the bombs she planned to kill everyone with.
  • Closed Circle: The raging storm outside forces Tom to stay in the Femm household, to his dismay.
  • The Gambling Addict: Most of the Femms have idiosyncrasies that help them cope with their ancestor's will forcing them to return to his house every night. Casper's are going to a gambling club and playing cards every day.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Tom removes his jacket to get loose after the culprit throws a meat cleaver at him and pins his sleeve to the wall.
  • Gun Nut: It's only shown in one scene, but the domineering Roderick has a collection of antique guns and cannons. One of them is rigged to kill him.
  • Hollywood Acid: For his washup, Tom receives a bowl of acid that only reveals its true colors when he accidentally dips his tie into it.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Seemingly naive Cecily and the coy Morgana, respectively.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Morgana's father Morgan is a silent and violent man who is ready beat the crap out of anyone who dares to touch his daughter. Since Morgana's taste for men is insatiable, he's had to do plenty.
  • The Matchmaker: Casper invites Tom to the family mansion partially because he wants to to introduce him to one of his unmarried female cousins. Whether he meant to introduce Tom to Morgana or Cecily is never revealed before Casper's murder, but both women have chemistry with Tom.
  • On One Condition: If a member of the Femm family wants to keep their share of the fortune, they must live in the house and be present for the daily gathering or they'll lose it.
  • Red Herring:
    • The possibility of Tom being related to the Femms is only just that, a possibility.
    • The violent Morgan and domineering Rodrick are posited as prime suspects.
  • The Reveal: The seemingly sweet and innocent Cecily has been killing her relatives.
  • Shovel Strike: As Morgan approaches Tom with murder on his mind, Morgana whacks him in the head with a shovel.
  • Trap Door: If one uses the doorbell instead of the knocker on the Femm household's front door, he'll find himself in the basement.
  • Vapor Wear: Morgana's wardrobe makes it pretty clear that she isn't wearing a bra for most of the film.
  • The Voiceless: Morgan is mostly silent, preferring to let his fists to do the talking.