Director: William Castle
Writer: William Castle; remake of The Old Dark House (1932; James Whale); based on Benighted (1927 novel) by J. B. Priestley
Cinematographer: Arthur Grant
Producer: William Castle and Anthony Hinds
by Jon Cvack
I don’t know much about Roger Corman or William Castle, but it seems to be that William Castle is the Dante’s Peak to Corman’s Volcano, or the poor man’s Hitchcock. I’ve been meaning to check out a few of his films, but - as I discussed in The Masque of Red Death (1964) and The Man They Couldn’t Hang (1939) - given how bland some of the Corman films were from the period, I had put off dumping them into my queue, and while I’m a bit disappointed I took so long, I also think the delay might have worked out, as a recent interest in older films over the last few years has allowed me to appreciate even the campiest of films and the ways they often tried to push the boundaries during the Code Era.
The Old Dark House - a remake of the 1932 film with Boris Karloff - stars Tom Poston, who aside from Christmas with the Kranks (2004) and the fifth Beethoven movie (2003), hasn’t been in all that much and yet possesses such an everyman charm to him, veering between car salesman Tom Penderel in this film to Linguistic Professor Jonathan Jones in another William Castle horror collaboration Zotz! (1962). With an aloof look and endearing innocence, Poston has that rare ability to make you feel like he could be your neighbor or colleague, leaving me surprised and finding it a bit tragic that he didn’t find much success.
Penderel has recently sold a Rolls Royce to his friend Casper Jemm (Peter Bull) who’s instructed Tom to drop the car off at his creepy mansion. However, upon arriving at the mansion, he discovers Casper dead and meets his strange and eccentric family, including his twin brother Jasper. When a terrible rainstorm rolls in, the family offers Tom a room for the night and so begins a bizarre murder-comedy story, which while far being perfect, is a bunch of fun.
We learn that each of the relatives is required to remain in the mansion each and every night, as per the terms of an ancestor’s will, anyone who refuses to honor this requirement forfeits their shares. As a result many of the siblings have lived there for years. Yet with Casper’s recent passing, the night brings a killer to the house, claiming a victim per hour through exciting and bizarre murders, before resulting in a classic bomb-defusal scene, which while completely out of left field, works with the comedic undertones. It’s not a perfect film, but for going in expecting a dull and uninspired story, I was pleasantly surprised.
BELOW: A short doc on William Castle
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