The only collaboration between British horror giants Hammer and US exploitation genius William Castle, ‘The Old Dark House’ is not quite as good as the sum of its parts, but provides an eccentric and occasionally amusing stab at a macabre black comedy with a great cast and some cheap but genuine laughs.
When American car salesman Tom Penderel is asked by his intense and enigmatic housemate Caspar to deliver a sports car to his ancestral seat in Dartmoor, Femm House, he inadvertantly wanders into a very strange situation indeed. Femm House is almost exactly as an American would expect it to be – old, dark, leaky, cold, and populated with a load of bonkers elderly upper class maniacs, the sort who build arks in their back garden. Unfortunately for Tom, he arrives on the night when family members start dying – murdered at the rate of one an hour by an unknown assailant who is clearly looking to thin out the opposition to inheriting the enormous fortune bequeathed by a piratical ancestor.
Often collapsing into farce, ‘The Old Dark House’ suffers from the same problem as 99% of horror comedies in that it is neither funny enough, nor horrific enough. That said, it’s pleasantly knock-about, and the cast have a lot of fun with their bizarre roles.
Robert Morley, Mervyn Johns, Joyce Grenfell and Danny Green play the older Femms, with Janette Scott, Fenella Fielding and Peter Bull (in a dual role) as the younger generation. Special consideration should be given to Fenella Fielding, who is stupidly sexy as the sinister Morgiana. Fielding could have had a long horror career if she’d taken her tongue out of cheek, but she is too twinkly and knowing to convince as a real threat – although she looks like she could have your trousers off in seconds. I like her.
Castle and Hammer didn’t join forces again, unfortunately, so ‘The Old Dark House’ remains a quaint, camp curio – not massively successful, but an interesting change of pace.