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James Whale
Ernest Thesinger, Boris Karloff, Gloria Stuart
Writing Credits:
Benn W. Levy

Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 72 min.
Price: $25.99
Release Date: 10/24/17

• Audio Commentary with Writer James Curtis
• Audio Commentary with Actor Gloria Stuart
• Interview with Curtis Harrington
• “Daughter of Frankenstein” Featurette
• Previews and Trailer


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The Old Dark House [Blu-Ray] (1932)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 12, 2017)

From Frankenstein director James Whale, 1932’s The Old Dark House introduces us to a mix of travelers who get stuck due to a landslide while they traverse a remote area in Wales.

Desperate for shelter, they come to a mansion maintained by the Femm family. Our travelers find themselves stuck in an abode more akin to a madhouse, as the Femms prove to be bizarre hosts.

Even if you never watched House, you’ve seen its many imitators. Over the decades, stories like this one became staples of the horror/thriller genre, so aspects of the film may come with a certain sense of déjà vu.

None of this familiarity should impact your enjoyment of House itself, though. Imbued with Whale’s giddily macabre sensibility, it still holds up well after 85 years.

Cinema has always been a director’s medium, but that becomes even more true for a film like House. With a fairly thin concept, the execution seems all the more important – without a talented director, a tale like this could meander and go nowhere.

Whale proves up to the task, as he takes the simplistic concept and makes it fly. Whale demonstrates an excellent sense of pacing, as he allows events to develop at a natural rate.

A less skilled filmmaker would feel the need to rush into the more terrifying aspects of the story, but Whale remains patient. He imbues the movie’s first two acts with more than enough creepiness to keep the viewer involved, and he doesn’t telegraph its subsequent scares.

Are the Femms simply eccentric or do they offer a genuine threat? Whale keeps matters close to the vest, so we discover the truth with the characters themselves.

Once we get to the third act, the narrative opens up in a dynamic manner. No, we don’t get the kind of wild theatrics we’d find in a modern movie, but House doesn’t need those sorts of obvious stabs at terror.

Instead, House relies on its creepy mood and occasional bursts of insanity to pack a punch. The movie remains a horror classic that sustains its impact after many decades.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

The Old Dark House appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the film’s advanced age, the image looked terrific.

Sharpness usually appeared strong. A couple wider shots displayed a dollop of softness, but those occurred infrequently and seemed minor. The vast majority of the movie provided tight, concise imagery.

I saw no signs of shimmering or jaggies, and the movie lacked edge haloes. With a nice layer of light grain, I didn’t fear that the film underwent intrusive digital noise reduction.

Print flaws essentially stayed away from this clean presentation – I saw a couple of tiny specks but nothing more. Blacks seemed deep and tight, while shadows appeared smooth and distinctive. I felt completely pleased with this great transfer.

Though not as good, the film’s PCM monaural soundtrack seemed more than satisfactory. Speech could be a little edgy and brittle, but those tendencies were inevitable given the audio’s age. The lines were always perfectly intelligible and they appeared fine given the limitations of the source.

As was the standard of the era, music only appeared at the movie’s open and close. Those snippets seemed thin but still acceptable.

Effects came with similar qualities, as those elements could be a little rough, but not badly so. They gave us decent clarity for 85-year-old stems.

Light background noise cropped up through the film, but this usually remained subdued enough that it didn’t distract. However, at the 57:20, the hiss escalated radically and stayed that way through the 1:04:54 mark.

This anomaly stood out in a negative manner. Still, even with that glitch, the audio mostly worked fine for its vintage.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD version? Audio seemed clearer and more concise, while visuals appeared cleaner, tighter, sharper and more film-like. Honestly, the DVD looked and sounded terrible, so this Blu-ray offered a radical upgrade, especially in terms of picture quality.

A few extras round out the set, and we find two separate audio commentaries. The first features actor Gloria Stuart, as she provides a running, screen-specific look at her career and her experiences during House.

Actor commentaries often fizzle, and given Stuart’s advanced age at the time she recorded this one, I expected very little from it. Happily, Stuart manages to give us a pretty nice discussion, as she offers a mix of good notes about the subjects at hand. This becomes an enjoyable little chat.

For the second commentary, we heat from writer James Curtis. He delivers his own running, screen-specific discussion of director James Whale and other crew, cast and performances, and various production areas.

As a historical commentary, Curtis brings us a decent but not great chat. While he touches on a fair number of useful topics, the track lacks a certain level of depth and insight. This seems like a listenable piece but not one that excels.

An Interview with Curtis Harrington presents a seven-minute, eight-second piece. The horror filmmaker discusses his acquaintance with James Whale and his efforts to save House. This becomes a short but fairly interesting chat.

New to the Blu-ray, Daughter of Frankenstein lasts 14 minutes, 45 seconds and presents a chat between actor Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara and Speed Art Museum curator Dean Otto. They discuss aspects of Boris’s career, with some emphasis on House. This never becomes a great chat, but it includes a few good insights.

The disc opens with ads for Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, Heat and Dust and My Journey Through French Cinema. We also get a 2017 re-release trailer for House.

The package concludes with a booklet. It gives us credits, photos and excerpts from a 1996 interview with Harrington. The booklet finishes matters on a pleasing note.

After 85 years, The Old Dark House remains a strong thriller. Due to James Whale’s deft direction, the film maintains a creepy vibe combined with effective scares. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture quality along with satisfactory audio and a few useful supplements. This becomes a great release for a classic movie.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of THE OLD DARK HOUSE

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