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The Old Dark House (1932) - Blu-ray Review

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The Old Dark House (1932) - Blu-ray

5 beersJames Whale.  Boris Karloff.  The year after Frankenstein was released.  Need I say anything more on why, even today, The Old Dark House absolutely slaughters its audience?  The tension and the creep factor are ratcheted up to levels that seem astounding considering the technical limitations of the era it was filmed in.  Unfortunately, no one originally viewed these films through the same lens we do now.  We have history on our side.  They had ingenuity.  And, as is the case here, we got lucky because someone had the presence of mind to pay attention and keep the original nitrates safe.  

What Whale did as a director for Universal was world-build without realizing that’s what he was doing.  Sure, each horror title he did for Universal had its odd quirk, but he solidly sold their acceptance and their appeal with a working knowledge on story structure, pacing, and aligning their stories to make them work as if in a shared universe.  That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me. 

The Old Dark House, adapted for the screen by R. C. Sherriff and Benn Levy, begins like any solid tale of Edgar Allan Poe’s would; the arrival of a stranger – or in this case three strangers: Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey), his wife Margaret (Gloria Stuart), and Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) – to an old and decrepit dwelling that somehow manages to still exist when stumbled upon.  In this story, it is the Femm Family’s mansion, which is watched over by a dangerous and often drunk butler named Morgan (Boris Karloff).  He's hiding something or someone and his menacing presence - highlighted by one key scene in which he towers behind the shadows and reaches over Stuart to close the door - makes for a meaningful night.

The corpse-like Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger) and his hard of hearing sister Rebecca (Eva Moore) warn them that there stay in their house will probably not be peaceful.  Yet, the alternative of getting washed away by heavy rains, mud slides, and flash floods doesn’t sound all the appealing and so the travellers decide to stay for the night.

Little do they know that their small party is about to be compounded by the sudden arrival of yet another group of rain-soaked travelers, Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his girlfriend, Gladys DuCane (Lilian Bond) and another presence in the house, a very threatening one, performed by a very active Brember Wills.

For the longest time, horror films have fascinated me.  They always appealed to me – even as a kid – and I have great memories watching those old Universal Horror titles for the very first time.  The first one was Karloff in 1932’s Frankenstein.  And, yes, that film and its monster are still very alive within me.

But I never was fortunate enough to see, with my own two eyes, the lesser-known horror title that Universal released in the wake of Frankenstein.  With The Old Dark House, Whale seems to be cutting his teeth on experimenting with just how dark humor can go within the confines of a horror tale.  Turns out, in this pre-Code horror comedy, you can go pitch black.

Matching that is the psychological terror that tugs at every single frame in this moody masterpiece.  We get a splash of sexuality and a secret unleashed upon the entire household – guests and all – that does exactly what all were warned that it would do.  And Whale, with the acting prowess of Laughton and the stature of Karloff, makes the best use of both men for great affect.  From warped mirrors to low angles, everything is teased and heightened by its exaggerated realism.  From passing a potato around the dinner table to the fleshy tease of Stuart’s disrobing, The Old Dark House is a forward-thinking black-and-white film that

And thanks to Cohen Film Collection, we now get to witness this darkly demented film in glorious 1080p.  It is, in fact, the way Universal and Carl Laemmle would have wanted it. 

The Old Dark House was so forward-thinking in its approach to horror that its set-up – travelers seeking refuge in a big scary house – would go on to become a staple of the horror genre.  The movie, considered lost until director Curtis Harrington discovered material in the late 60s, is worth owning in this its 4K restoration.

The Old Dark House (1932) - Blu-ray

MPAA Rating: TV-G.
72 mins
: James Whale
Benn W. Levy
Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton
: Horror
Beware the night!.
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's only gin, you know. Only gin. I like gin."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 20, 1932
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 24, 2017
Synopsis: Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate.

The Old Dark House (1932) - Blu-ray


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Available on Blu-ray
- October 24, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
: English SDH
English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

This is a must own!   Cohen Media Group debuts The Old Dark House in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 with a 1.32:1 aspect ratio. The restoration was done in 4K using two different negatives.  Grays are deep and well saturated throughout the entire presentation. Blacks are strong and inky. Considering the age of the print, this is a surreal revelation on Blu-ray.  There is a bit of emulsion damage that couldn't be prevented due to the age of the print, but it's otherwise free from any real errors.  The audio is presented in a LPCM 2.0 mono track.



  •  There are two feature length commentaries included with this release.  The first is with Actress Gloria Stuart.  The second is with James Whale Biographer James Curtis.

Special Features:

Everything originally on Kino’s DVD release has been ported over.  This release; however, adds an interview with Sara Karloff, the actor’s daughter and a booklet with an excerpt from of a David Del Valle interview with Curtis Harrington. 

  • Daughter of Frankenstein: A Conversation with Sara Karloff (14 min)
  • Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House (7 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Old Dark House (1932) - Blu-ray

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