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Old, Dark House

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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 will have somehow ceased to function, if they ever existed at all... especially telephones. (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.)

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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 and 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.


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Examples:

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    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 ×××HOLiC movie A Midsummer's Night Dream takes place in one of these. Though the house itself is the one making the guests disappear.

    Board Games 
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • The titular House of Mystery and House of Secrets horror anthologies from DC Comics, which later featured in The Sandman.

    Fan Fic 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A variant of this in the neo-noir Bad Times at the El Royale. Instead of a crumbling Victorian mansion it's a flashy Art Deco motel, but a lot of the hallmarks of the genre - an eclectic cast of characters bearing shocking secrets, trapped together - are all there.
  • Xanadu is often presented this way in Citizen Kane.
  • Clue the movie took place inside such a mansion.
  • Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night is an intentional Affectionate Parody of this genre with a couple of Lampshade Hanging moments. One character even accuses another of "watching too many Old Dark House movies" in one scene.
  • The Hollister house in Dead Birds is a sprawling abandoned farmhouse in the middle of dead cornfield, and the scene of unspeakble evil that has forever tainted the property. Perhaps not the best place to hide out and divide the loot after a bank robbery.
  • 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.
  • In The Ghoul, Professor Morlant lives in a rambling old mansion on the Yorkshire Moors, lit entirely by candles.
  • The Abbott and Costello movie Hold That Ghost takes place in an old abandoned inn that the boys inherited from a dying gangster.
  • The original House On Haunted Hill is a modernized version of one, using a Frank Lloyd Wright house, built in 1923, for exterior shots of the eponymous location (although the interior looks more typically 19th Century). Some very clever camera work makes it look like it's located in some desolate hill country, rather than the winding, dense LA neighbourhood of Los Feliz, where [[the house]] is in real life.
  • In Husk, a car crash leaves the protagonists stranded in a cornfield. After discovering their cell phones don't work, they decided to make their way to a creepy, seemingly abandoned farmhouse located in the centre of the cornfield to see if they can phone for help. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Killer Party has the abandoned frat house where a young man named Allan was killed 22 years prior. Naturally, the sorority decides this is the perfect setting for an April Fools Day party.
  • 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.
  • The Lodgers is a gothic horror story set in Campbell Country, so naturally, there's a cursed, dilapidated mansion. Perhaps more dark than usual because the twins who live there have limited resources for keeping it lit.
  • 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.
  • Murder by Death is one of these movies, only the guests are all pastiches of famous fictional detectives.
  • 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 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 lord and lady are murdered.
  • 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.
  • Most of What a Carve Up! takes place in Blackshaw Towers; a creepy old mansion of the Yorkshire moors. It becomes even creepier when the killer sabotages the power plant, plunging the house into darkness.
  • Count Yorga moves into a creepy like manor at the start of both the films. The first one being on a hill outside the city, though it seems to be just for show as he spends most of his time in the lower sections where he has a makeshift throne room that his undead concubines kept and his coffin kept in a darken area around the house where he sleeps in the daylight hour. In the sequel, the manor isn't quite as big and looks like an everyday house. But the inside is fairly creepy with dark corridors, dusty rooms, cobwebs aplenty and no notable windows which of course is perfect for him and his growing female vampire horde. It likewise does have shutters he can control through button presses to trap his victims while he and his concubines use their powers to warp around the house to chase them. He likewise has a throne room in this one but a tad bigger and where the coffins of his concubines are kept (as opposed to just stone slabs in the first). As well as a quicksand pit in the back of the house to get rid of dead bodies he doesn't intend to revive.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • Much of Shirley Jackson's works are set in old, dark houses including The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • Black Elm in Ninth House
  • The mansion in "The Cold, Stark House", another work by Kim Newman included in Genevieve Undead, and basically The Old Dark House films relocated to the Warhammer Fantasy universe.
  • Carfax Abby in Dracula serves as the 19th-century equivalent of Dracula's castle when he makes his way to London. He specifically bought it because it was dark and forboding despite Harker being confused why he would want a building that's so run down. Also, because it's big enough to hold his coffins of dirt and close to London to hunt for blood.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 premise of the Sci Fi Channel 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.
  • 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.

    Pinball 
  • Strange Science begins when two teenagers venture inside a seemingly-abandoned dark house, only to find the Mad Scientist and laboratory inside.

    Theatre 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Cat and the Canary, where a young heiress and her relatives are harassed by a killer.
  • Farndale Avenue series:
    • The spoof whodunnit show-within-a-show in The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery is set in the remote country house Checkmate Manor, where the characters are being murdered one-by-one after gathering for a will reading.
    • The spoof B-movie horror show-within-a-show in The Haunted Through-Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle is about a young couple whose car breaks down, forcing them to spend the night in Farndale Castle, with the spooky portraits, secret passages and sinister occupants.
  • 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?
  • Parodied by the play-within-a-play in The Real Inspector Hound.

    Theme Parks 
  • 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. In the final version of the ride, therefore, the exterior of the house is in pretty good condition for a Haunted House, although the interior is - in some areas, anyway - made to look dilapidated and dusty. 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.

     Webcomic 
  • Dracula: Ruler of the Night: As in the original story, Carfax Abby serves this role, though Dracula does try to make a bit more homely since in this rendition his brides eventually join him on his trip to London. When the hunters start to come after them following Lucy's turning. They at the suggestion of Lucy's now turned mother, Minerva, raid the house of a socialite friend of the Westerna family, make her into a new bride who, after turning, willingly gives up the house and slowly turn her manor into this as well, least on the inside.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • The were-car episode of Futurama begins with Bender inheriting one of these off a dead uncle, prompting the following exchange:
    Lawyer: (reading Will) ...To my loving nephew, Bender - assuming he's not responsible for my death - I leave my castle...
    Bender: Yes! Let's stay there tonight!
    Lawyer: ...on condition that he spend one night within its walls.
    Bender: Oooh, man, 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.
  • This is a staple of Scooby-Doo and many of its imitators, though the victims are usually just kidnapped instead of murdered.
  • The Simpsons:
    • This is played with on one episode where 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 Republican party headquarters is an ominous castle straight from a horror movie.
  • 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.
  • Ruby Gloom is set in a house that's superficially one of these, but because everyone in the cast is a Perky Goth, it's anything but spooky.


Alternative Title(s): Dark House

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