The Old Dark House 1963 REVIEW

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TITLE: The Old Dark House
DIRECTOR: William Castle
CAST: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Fenella Fielding, Mervyn Johns, Janette Scott and Peter Bull

The Old Dark House 1963 Hammer remake is a much better film than it’s given credit for, says DAVID SAUNDERSON

The Old Dark House 1963 is purported to be a remake of James Whales’ directed film of the same name but in truth, it bears little relation to the 1932 Universal classic.

This version of the comedy-horror stars Tom Poston as Tom Penderel, an American car salesman living in London, who is asked to deliver a car to an old mansion in Dartmoor.

The Old Dark House 1963

When he arrives in the middle of a storm, he discovers his customer is dead and his family, the Femms, are very strange indeed.

The Old Dark House was made by Hammer Films but it certainly doesn’t feel like a Hammer film. Take the murders out of it, it could be a Disney film.

The film feels a lot more an American than British production, possibly because of its US director William Castle, noted for his wonderfully-inventive gimmicks for films like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959). The cast, other than Tom Poston, is British but there is a clean, Hollywood feel to it you don’t get with Hammer usually.

Reading up on the film before I watched it today, I saw the distaste held for the film. But after watching it, I feel the criticism is a little unfair.

Halliwell’s Film and Video Guide 2000, for instance, apparently describes this film as “a travesty which has nothing to do with the 1932 film and possesses no merit of its own. The cast is left floundering”.

Yes, it does not hold a candle to the original but as a standalone film you could do a lot worse. It is certainly not a travesty.

I was pleased to read The Hammer Story by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes’ much more positive stance on the film calling it “endearing” despite its obvious flaws.

The film reminds me a bit of The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), incidentally starring Glynis Johns, whose father Mervyn Johns, plays Petiphar Femm, in this version of The Old Dark House. Both films are remakes of highly-regarded horror classic in name only.
Had either film been called anything else, critics would look on them a lot more favourably.

The Old Dark House has as stellar cast. I’ve only ever known Poston for his TV series characters like George, the dim-witted handyman in Newhart and the grumpy neighbour Bickley in Mork and Mindy.

Janette Scott, Tom Poston and Robert Morley in The Old Dark House 1963
Janette Scott, Tom Poston and Robert Morley in The Old Dark House 1963

He was a great surprise and a cut above the usual American actors that were flown in for Hammer films at the time. And, of course, you’ve got the brilliance of the likes of Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, Mervyn Johns and Fenella Fielding.

You could actually say it is one of Hammer’s best casts ever.

The problem with the film is that it is very light on horror and the laughs are few and far between.

For a dark comedy, The Old Dark House 1963 is considerably light but I enjoyed the film though and that is what matters.


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