Sony has released the 1963 remake of the 1932 James Whale horror film The Old Dark House as a burn-to-order DVD. The difference between the versions is supposedly night and day (I haven't seen the original). The remake is a broad, comedic take on the horror genre that keeps only the basic premise of the story, which was based on a novel by J.B. Priestly. Tom Poston, in a rare leading role, plays Tom Pendrel, an American living in London where he works as a car dealer. His flatmate Caspar Femm (Peter Bull) is a strange man who he hardly ever sees. Nevertheless, Caspar induces Tom to deliver his new car to the family's estate in the British countryside. When Tom arrives, he finds Caspar dead, supposedly from an accidental fall. He's already laid out in his coffin in a parlor. Tom then finds himself among a strange group of other Femms, all of whom reside in the crumbling, once grand mansion. Roderick (Robert Morley), the elder statesman of the family, is a pompous eccentric who explains that the family members must reside in the mansion and be indoors by midnight every night if they want to continue living from the family patriarch's estate. The other strange characters introduced to Tom are Caspar's cousin Cecily (Janette Scott), a sexy relatively "normal" family member whose flirtations with Tom induce him to stay overnight; Potiphar (Mervyn Johns), a silly and perpetually amused man; Agatha Femm (Joyce Grenfell), the matriarch of the family who knits endlessly even though she doesn't have a clue as to what she is creating; Morgana (Fenella Fielding), a sex-starved vamp; her seemingly mute, violent father Morgan (Danny Green) and Caspar's identical twin brother Jasper (also played by Peter Bull). It doesn't take Tom long to realize he's made a mistake by spending the night with this group of eccentrics, but in true horror film fashion, he finds himself unable to leave due to mechanical problems with his car and a raging rainstorm. Before long, there are attempts on his life and other members of the household turn up dead under bizarre circumstances.
I was prepared to dismiss this film as a hokey kid's movie, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Poston plays it relatively low-key as the "normal" person among a group of weirdos. The supporting cast is wonderful, one and all, with the imitable Morley and Peter Bull delivering truly amusing performances and Fenella Fielding is particularly alluring as an outwardly attractive young woman who (almost) manages to cover up some very unsettling eccentricities of her own. The film has a curious history. It was produced and director by legendary shlockmeister William Castle in collaboration with Hammer Films. It was shot in color but released in the United States in black-and-white, which is inexplicable given the fact it is a rich-looking movie with excellent production design by John Draper. Adding to its bizarre fate, the movie did not premiere in the UK until 1966. The movie clearly inspired the classic Addams Family TV series, as evidenced by the fact that the main titles were designed and drawn by Charles Addams himself. There's also an appropriately entertaining musical score by Benjamin Frankel. The Old Dark House is consistently amusing throughout and a bit daring for its day in terms of sexual suggestiveness. It remains an oddity in the Hammer canon, which did not often emphasize overt comedy in the studio's films. Give this one a try: if you like retro horror (even played for laughs), you'll find it to be a rewarding experience.
The DVD features a gorgeous transfer and includes the original trailer.