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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Doors Open at Universal's Dark House

Broadway's Gala Open for The Old Dark House at Gotham's House Of Horror, the Rialto

Halloween Harvest 2017 --- The Gothic Masterpiece Back In A Fresh Frame

It would be remiss not to write about The Old Dark House after most of a lifetime spent waiting for it. There were several filmic Yetis during formative days, glimpsed by senior fans long before us (Ackerman, Everson, Carlos Clarens), but inaccessible beyond fotos sprinkled round books and monster mags. Maybe it was healthy to have grails past reach, for the quest sharpened instincts and made ultimate getting the sweeter once The Ghoul, The Man Who Changed His Mind (two others from the 30's with Karloff), and The Old Dark House saw rescue from seeming oblivion. House seemed most urgent for coming between Frankenstein and The Mummy, a Karloff stopover denied our hungry niche due to Universal rights expired, then sold subsequent for a remake, ownership to Raymond Rohauer and then his successors. The Old Dark House missing from television packages was like a record album that skipped over the very song you bought it for. Of course there was legend, abetted by stills, that this was most horrific of all horrors, an expectation applied also to Mystery Of The Wax Museum and the Fredric March Jekyll and Hyde before they came out of hiding. What are such dreams but harbinger to letdown when finally they come true?

Universal Announces a Dark House Reissue for 1939
Once-lost ones had happy ways of getting better with each viewing. We'd come away cool at first, try again with hope that this time things would improve, which indeed most did. Such was my experience with The Old Dark House, its potential to gain most considerable since all along we knew that poor prints did the film no justice. Most home releases fizzled, exception a 1996 laser disc that put best face on source material accessible for commercial release at the time. 16mm before these were like firecrackers that got wet. All of collectors I knew who duped The Old Dark House are gone now, those prints no worse than reception on TV where we tolerated the rest of Universal monsters, except to possess The Old Dark House needed $175 at the least, plus fact this was "hot" merchandise and Rohaeur was vigilant where his stuff was pinched. Just having The Old Dark House conferred status enough, but you'd hesitate showing it for complaints the print would arouse. Archives and revival sites had licensed play of a Library Of Congress clean-up (from saved Universal elements), but these were distant point from flyover and backwood a lot of us occupied. You might as well say The Old Dark House has been truly lost for lifetime of most. For me at least, it could as readily be London After Midnight, for I really don't count time served with poor/poorer renditions, which is why the new-arrived Blu-Ray is tall timber for this Uni fan.

To matter of chills subdued, and levity by director James Whale, elements disagreeable to fans expecting the moon, let it be said that The Old Dark House isn't about shocks any more than other horrors Universal did in 30's prime. What newcomers need to know is this: The Old Dark House has fabulous atmospherics, mood enough to spread over a dozen lesser chillers, and a house living full up to promise of the title. The Cat and The Canary worked a same magic and was silent. You can cut down the volume on The Old Dark House and get full value. I've always thought 30's horror scored on settings we saw, not how many fiends jumped out of cupboards. The Old Dark House does have humor, but not an undercutting kind. In fact, it is the cast's way with wit that make hearing as pleasurable as the looking (so do keep volume up). Since actors like Karloff, Charles Laughton, and Ernest Thesiger aren't born any more, let's cherish chance to see the three at full tilt, plus other eccentrics at Whale command. The Old Dark House is fresh this week from the Cohen Film Collection and quality is heaven-sent. You'll want to watch two or three times just to see wonders performed here. And note reading tip --- Classic Images is just out with the November issue and they have a fabulous fifteen-page overview on The Old Dark House by historian triad David Colton, Tom Weaver, and Dr. Robert J. Kiss. Everything is here, including an interview with disc producer Tim Lanza, who tells the story behind the Blu-Ray. All this is film scholarship of the highest order, and I was enthralled. Classic Images this month is a must companion for long-awaited joy that is The Old Dark House.


Blogger Bob Lindstrom said...

I don't understand the fuss over this release. Yes, it is a beautiful HD transfer, but I've owned a good quality copy of this movie on LaserDisc for 20 years, and it has been one of my favorite films for all of that time. Whale at his best, and the cast chewing the scenery with gusto. A Must Have title.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Wayne Keyser said...

Sorry to disagree, but ... boring, boring, boring.

A lot of good pieces: the atmosphere, a cute spunky girl, but a story that defeats involvement about every two minutes.

2:37 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Far from boring, perhaps the wittiest, best acted, and wonderfully creepy in a methodical manner spooker that builds to a good horrific climax punctuated by a nice joke.

Spare me from humorless monster kids who lose interest in anything lacking blood and guts more than every thirty seconds. THE OLD DARK HOUSE is indeed a classic for those who have genuine attention spans, and we finally have it in a decent transfer from the long neglected original materials. Hooray!


9:06 PM  
Blogger RichardSchilling said...

James Cameron had that laserdisc as well; he listened to the Gloria Stuart commentary track and was impressed with how sharp she sounded. He looked her up and rescued her from obscurity for Titanic.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Received the Cohen Blu-ray today (Thurs Oct 26) and watched it tonight. I loved every minute of it.

The old Kino DVD of "The Old Dark House" was like seeing a movie through a muddy aquarium,
but now it looks fantastic.

I never believed that I would see this fim looking and sounding so great.

I feel like I just watched a new and wonderful film that I had never seen or heard before.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I was pleased with the Kino dvd until I got this yesterday. The picture quality is dazzling. The real treat is how wonderful the audio track is.

One thing that seems either to be forgotten and/or not known is that while these great Universal films beginning with DRACULA spawned the horror genre they were not made as horror films. Horror films are formula pictures. There is nothing formula about any of these. These pictures were made as A films (not as many now write as "B's." "B" movies were the second half of a double bill. These films stood and stand on their own.

Perhaps that is why horror fans feel let down by them.

There is nothing to feel let down by with this wonderful restoration. We owe Curtis Harrington a big thank you for stepping in when the film was close to being lost. One person who cares (like Thad Kamorowski with those Porkys) is worth a helluva lot. I am now curious about whatever made Charles Laughton anti-Boris Karloff.

5:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Am in total agreement with Reg, Phil, Richard, others who laud DARK HOUSE --- for me, it is a masterpiece, never so much so as now that we can see it properly. I would place in my top three Universals with THE MUMMY and THE BLACK CAT.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Am seeing this on the big screen in Mill Valley, CA, Saturday morning, Oct. 30th. It's one of those movies I've waiter pretty much all of my life to see. Can't wait!

6:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Reg: Didn't know Laughton was anti-Karloff. He was the same way about Claude Raines -- who was Laughton's acting teacher!

7:25 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Sarah Karloff in her interview tells us Charles Laughton was the only actor who spoke against Boris. Perhaps Laughton realized that in the long haul Boris (and Bela Lugosi) would be remembered where many who were considered bigger stars in the day are largely forgotten.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

When I saw a glowing review of this release over at the DVDSAVANT site, I scratched my head. I seemed to remember seeing this a year or two ago and being utterly disappointed. Could I have been wrong? I checked my Netflix disc rental history and some other sites and couldn't confirm it. Maybe I saw something else. Then I re-read Glenn's review and the less-than-glowing remarks here. YES...I saw it. I then remembered that it failed to perform on any level--and I love the actors involved. It just kinda laid there. BRD copy for this child of the night.
The wolf, man.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

THE OLD DARK HOUSE will be TCM's feature film in its Halloween Fest Tuesday at 8pm EDT

6:55 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Thanks for the info, Jerry. I'll give it another chance. The wolf, man.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

If you have not seen the Cohen restoration of 1932's The Old Dark House, then
(unless you saw it prior to 1957)
you have not really "seen" The Old Dark House.

TCM is showing the 1932 original on Halloween at 8 PM EST,
I would not bet the farm as to whether it is the old muddy 16mm print or the new incredible restoration.
(and the new Cohen Blu-ray will still look a bit better even if TCM does show the restoration).

A few hours later, at 2:45 AM, TCM is showing the 1963 William Castle so-called remake.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Watched the new Blu-Ray last night.


For the first time in my life, I LOVED the movie.

The actors never went home from work hungry, because they chewed the scenery all day, and it's great.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Okay. The new restoration made a world of difference. It's not one of my favorites now (at 90 minutes or so it still seems long or padded). But I see stuff I didn't before now that the copy is pristine. As for the idea that Whale couldn't find an older actor to play the 102-year-old father, it seems ludicrous. Just a few years later the quite young Sam Jaffee pulled off a very old holy man! The wolf, man.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Happily, on Halloween night, TCM showed the Cohen Restoration of “The Old Dark House” and, after the movie, Ben Mankiewicz held up the Cohen Blu-ray and suggested that viewers buy it.

At first, when Mankiewicz introduced the movie, I was afraid that it was going to be the old terrible print that we have been used to (hating) as Mankiewicz mentioned the old “Prologue” that at one time preceded the film
(which ‘assured’ the audience that the Karloff in the movie was the Boris Karloff who played the Frankenstein Monster).

As we know now, that Prologue is not on the original negative (according to Cohen Media) nor the Cohen Restoration.

And, Kenneth, the movie is only 72 minutes (not 90), and I don’t find it padded at all. I would have enjoyed more of the characters had it lasted for 90 minutes.

I recorded the later airing of William Castle’s 1963 “remake,” but I’m not expecting to like it any better than I did when I was a teenager (and I hated it then).

But, to repeat my earlier comment, now that I can finally see and experience 1932’s “The Old Dark House” in an excellent restoration, I’ve come to really love the movie.
I’ll keep revisiting that place!

1:51 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Yeah, Phil, I saw the real length after I wrote my note. It feels long to me. Are there subtitles on the BRD? I couldn't get any on TCM with the broadcast and I'm going deaf. A poor ex-instructor, I'm waiting for Silicon Valley's cheaper and more effective aids reputed to be coming. The wolf, man.

11:16 AM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

I recorded the version shown on TCM a couple of nights ago and it was the new restoration. What a beauty.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Kenneth, yes, there are subtitles on the Blu-ray. They are rather large subtitles too!
(A bit too large for my preference as I often use subtitles for my 95 year-old Father when he watches).

Get the Blu-ray. I don't think you will feel that the movie is long or padded once you see all the words.

Also, it looks even better on the Blu-ray than the TCM HD Broadcast.
With the compression and other issues associated with Broadcast & Cable real-time transmission, Blu-rays always look better.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Phil.... Oh, Phil. Am I letting you talk me into buying the BRD after all the negative things I've believed about this film? Maybe I am....
The wolf, man.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Kenneth, I think you should have the Blu-ray.
"Must do it" as Karloff said in his next James Whale film.

3:27 PM  

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