Femm Fatalities

When Hammer’s Old Dark House tries slapstick – loud, obnoxious slapstick – it fails. It’s like watching a living cartoon, to which the rest of Old Dark House doesn’t sync.

Thankfully, that’s a fraction of Old Dark House’s runtime. The rest is a delight, if sadly contrasted by Universal’s identically named 1930s version; the two share limited resemblance. This 1963 offering uses a drier British humor, whimsically morbid and corny, even delighted at the chance to screw around with an American car salesman who’s trying to maintain politeness.

Old Dark House makes Pendrel its source of right only because he’s the lone person who cares

Tom Pendrel (Tom Poston) is that salesman, a role outside of his range, if still maddeningly funny. One can only imagine this part going to a calmer Jimmy Stewart, to who Poston appears to recall in dealing with an oddball British family.

In that, Old Dark House mixes reality and The Addams Family, complete with an overdecorated house and the eccentrics who live inside. Pendrel seems like the shrewd one initially, hawking cars in the most artificial salesman-y way. He’s in this for money, obviously, but soon it’s clear how far others will go. Old Dark House makes a hero out of an oft disdained profession, but only because the others are worse.

The Femms, a multi-generational group, stick together because a will demands they do. Leaving means losing a share, so they stay in utter misery, spending their limited cash on bizarre hobbies rather than fixing the perpetually leaky roof. Silently, they all disdain one another, letting the water drip at the off chance someone might give up and leave, increasing personal windfalls. The humor isn’t so much the oddities or Pendrel’s reactions (those work too though), rather the insanity that set in over time, forcing the Femms to live in their own private bubbles with stuff instead of each other.

Pendrel is shocked whenever a corpse is found; the Femms don’t care. They don’t show outward happiness, but the performances convey a priceless indifference. There’s a murderer in their ranks, yet as long as it’s not themselves, it’s seen as a plus. Old Dark House makes Pendrel its source of right only because he’s the lone person who cares. Once past his false platitudes as to not lose a sale, the American attitude initially played up for laughs becomes Old Dark House’s central figure. It’s the Brits willing to drive their own to madness for a payday.

Video

Routine in all aspects, Mill Creek puts Old Dark House on a disc with two other movies. This appears to have little effect on encoding. Murky grain structure falls more on limited mastering, taking life from the imagery due to middling resolution. Resulting detail reaches average, unimpressive levels. Escaping texture brings slight facial definition and marginal sharpness to resolve the house.

Fair color suffers fading, primaries reduced in their intensity, flesh tones one step above pale. Some blue and red wool knitted by the mother hit the brightest point, still lackluster. It’s enough to get by, even suiting the morbid tone, but dry.

Well tuned in terms of depth, black levels and contrast fare well, Old Dark House’s strongest quality on this disc. Shadows drift toward solid black as required, while lightning clashes illuminate the scenery. There’s dimensionality aplenty.

Audio

At the topmost levels, some fidelity loss occurs, if well within norms. The rest sounds great though. Horn sections pop from this mono track beautifully. And dialog, while slightly flat, isn’t without vintage charm.

Where possible, a firm low-end delivers that touch of horror, smoothly rendered within the music. Sound effect don’t offer the same given their stock nature.

Extras

A commentary comes from the Monster Party Podcast foursome.

The Old Dark House (1963)
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Unfairly contrasted to Universal’s original, Hammer’s take on The Old Dark House is an original comic gem with a few missteps.

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