The Old Dark House (1963)

The Old Dark House.
Columbia Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

I learned of this movie from a preshow for some spooky movie at a theater where they play classic videos along the theme of the movie during seating. A horror comedy starring… Tom Poston? The quirky old neighbor on like a dozen 80s/90s sitcoms? In a slasher comedy of errors? Well, why not? For one thing, apparently this is a remake nobody asked for, but I’m not burdened by the expectations of the 1932 movie, so I’ll probably enjoy it more than it was enjoyed at the time.

After watching the movie:

Tom Penderel, a car salesman in London who can’t not go on about being an American, rents a flat with Caspar Femm, an eccentric gambler with the strange arrangement that he stays in the flat during the day and Tom lives in it at night. It seems that at nights, Caspar must return to his family home. Caspar invites Tom to come to the home for the weekend and meet his cousin, who “could use some fresh blood”. However, when Tom arrives at the manor, suffering a car breakdown just as a rainstorm begins, he soon finds that Caspar just died, having fallen down the stairs. The strange Femm family are all cursed by an ancestor’s will that requires that all family members must be in the house by midnight every night or they forfeit the inheritance that none of them can touch until every member of the family and the house itself are dead. Stuck in the house by the storm, Tom is constantly beset by apparent attempts on his life, the strange and threatening hobbies the family has undertaken, and the advances of cousin Morgana (though Tom would rather have the attention of innocent Cecily) as well as the mounting dead bodies of the rest of the family as each of them are killed on the hour.

The main point of this story seems to be how very strange rich English folk can be, and how wealth dehumanizes them. While Tom is the protagonist, he’s mostly there to react to the absurd goings-on rather than really do much to drive the plot, until he wraps it up at the end.

The pacing is dreadfully slow for a comedy. It’s not nearly as manic as the trailer I saw implied. There are identical twins, but no wacky misunderstandings ensue because by the time we meet the second, the first is dead. It could be mistaken for a light drama until we find out how unhinged Potiphar Femm’s hobby is, and that’s well into the third act.

Tom seems like a character made for Tom Poston to be Tom Poston, but he’s also clearly the straight man to the shenanigans of the Femms, which is not a place it seems you’d put a comic actor to show off his chops.It seems like I’ve seen Peter Bull in things, but apparently nothing that merited him getting a tag on this blog. He plays Jasper as strangely childlike, but mainly with his mother, and we’re probably all a little more childlike with our parents, especially someone who’s always had a fortune to live off of. Robert Morley is playing a Robert Morley type.

Some things happen, but not very close together, until they stop happening, after 86 minutes that feel like three hours. It’s a very uninspired comedy and I’m not surprised it hasn’t been remembered fondly. I’m sure the earlier adaptation would be better because it’s not hard at all to outdo this.

One thought on “The Old Dark House (1963)

  1. Valerie October 23, 2020 / 1:59 pm

    My experience has been, movie trailers = we show you the best parts.

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