The Old Dark House (1932)
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Manages to be both as funny as a droll comedy and as atmospheric as a creepy old-school horror.
After the success of Frankenstein, James Whale made The Old Dark House, again with Boris Karloff as a lumbering man-monster. And what a strange film it is. It's certainly a showcase for Whale's ability to conjure a spooky atmosphere, lighting most of the film in what feels like flickering candle light, where the mind tricks the eye. But through most of the run time, he uses it to fake us out. The monster is just an ugly drunk. The scares just an odd shadow, the wind making a noise, etc., while the story of people holing up in an old house plays more like madcap comedy or romance. Only a late third act actually takes the plot into the realm of horror as the film keeps introducing new characters until one of them really does prove to be an effective menace. It's fun - indeed, I don't think I've ever seen something that looked so much like the direct ancestor of the Rocky Horror Picture Show - but thin, as if it didn't really want to be a horror flick, then finally decided to give in.
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #117 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #133 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #254 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films: 1001-2000
This movie ranks #287 in Eureka!'s The Masters of Cinema Series
This movie ranks #556 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown