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THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1963)

"You talk of this house as if it were a person."
"It is....not only alive, but evil...."

Director: William Castle
Starring: Tom Poston, Janette Scott, Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, Mervyn Johns, Fenella Fielding, Peter Bull, Danny Green
Screenplay: Robert Dillon, based upon the novel by J.B. Priestley

Synopsis: Caspar Femm (Peter Bull) invites his flatmate, Tom Penderel (Tom Poston), to spend the weekend with his family. Tom accepts, but when he arrives at Femm Hall he discovers that Caspar has fallen - or been pushed - to his death. Tom encounters the rest of Caspar’s family: his mother Agatha (Joyce Grenfell), who never stops knitting; gun-obsessed Uncle Roderick (Robert Morley); Caspar’s twin, Jasper (Peter Bull); Uncle Petipher (Mervyn Johns), who has spent twenty years building an ark; pretty cousin Cecily (Janette Scott), to whom Tom is attracted; cousin Morgana (Fenella Fielding), who is attracted to Tom; and silent Uncle Morgan (Danny Green), who tries to kill anyone Morgana is interested in. Roderick explains that an old family Will means that all of the Femms must spend every night in Femm Hall, or they will lose their share of the family fortune. The family gathers each night at midnight exactly. Roderick observes a resemblance between Tom and the ancestor who made the Will, and accuses him of being a relative who wants part of the Femm fortune. Tom has a narrow escape when he finds acid in his wash basin. At midnight, Agatha is missing from the family gathering. She is found dead, impaled with her own knitting needles. Soon Jasper, too, is dead, strangled with the fire tongs, and it is clear that there is a maniac in the house....

Comments: If you are going to have any degree of tolerance for this film it becomes necessary to put the original version, James Whale’s marvellous black comedy, out of your mind completely. This reworking of the story has enough problems without the viewer making mental comparisons of that nature. In fact, playing as it does like a cross between "The Cat And The Canary" and a Carry On film without any smut in it (if such a thing is conceivable), William Castle’s version of The Old Dark House is a very bad film indeed. As a comedy, it is painfully unfunny. As an exercise in multiple murder, it lacks the ghoulish black humour that enlivened the later Dr Phibes films and their successors. As a whodunit, the identity of the killer is so screamingly obvious that the viewer gets impatient waiting for the other characters to figure it out. From the beginning, Hammer made it a policy to cast an American actor in many of their films to boost their chances of an overseas sale. These usually over-the-hill ex-stars at least had some talent or star quality to offer. The only possible explanation I can think of for the casting of the dull, dreary and personality-less Tom Poston is to make the rest of the cast look better by comparison. Of those others, Robert Morley plays Robert Morley with some enthusiasm, and Joyce Grenfell has a couple of nice moments. Mervyn Johns probably comes off best as potty Uncle Petipher. The remaining participants are largely wasted. The house itself seems neither very old nor very dark (and if there’s no shortage of money in the family, why don’t they get the leaky roof fixed?), and far too much of the running time is spent on padding scenes of Tom Penderel being chased around by Uncle Morgan. Producer-director William Castle must have realised he was on a loser with this one: he didn’t even bother trying to sell it with a gimmick.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB