Released on Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group, October 24, 2017
Specs: 1080p, PSM 2.0 audio. No region code or aspect ratio is stated on the packaging, but Amazon reports them as Region 1 and 137:1 respectively.
Running time: 72 minutes
Genre: High-Classic Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy)
Concept: After a landslide blocks a neglected country road, five storm-drenched travelers seek refuge in an austere old house populated by a monstrous butler and a pair of eccentric siblings harboring a secret that will soon endanger them all.
The Movie: It’s true that not a whole lot happens in The Old Dark House. James Whale fans expecting the grim horror of Frankenstein, the fantastical wonder of The Invisible Man, or the epic fairytale quality of Bride of Frankenstein may be disappointed at first. The film consists mostly of characters skulking around shadowy hallways, running through the rain, sneaking up creaky stairs, and complaining about the weather.
It sounds dreary on paper, but that’s why we watch the movie!
Under the visionary guidance of Whale, the mundane becomes frightening and the banal turns razor-sharp. Each character (and there are quite a few for a film restricted to one setting) is distinct and layered, and their collective interplay is a master class in sardonic humor. Some label The Old Dark House a comedy, but don’t imagine outdated jokes and corny comic relief. It’s a horror film that drips wit just as it pours rain and rattles thunder.
The cast might be the best ensemble of any horror film from the 1930s: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Eva Moore, Lilian Bond, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, and the inimitable Ernest Thesiger, whose every line is a quotable delight.
My only real criticism is the abrupt ending, though that hardly makes it different from other genre films of the time. So sit back, fire up the Blu-ray player, and have yourself a potato.
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Video: The transfer is super clean. While a bit of grain should be expected from an 85-year-old movie, the print itself is in excellent shape. The contrast is quite good for the most part, though lowering the brightness on your TV a notch or two might darken a few shots that bear too much middle gray. Don’t dim too much, however, or you’ll miss out on the beautiful textures revealed by the new 4k scan. Yes, this release is far superior to any version previously on the market. That’s what you really want to know, right?
Late in the film, there appear to be a few missing frames, once at about 57:30 and again a few minutes later. Probably less than a half-second in total. I’m not sure if previous versions have this glitch, but I there’s no obvious splice or auditory pop, so it’s a minimal distraction.
Audio: There’s not much to report about a dialog-heavy movie with no music score that takes place in one setting. Overall, the actors’ voices come across clear and full and the sound effects are mixed well without overpowering the conversation. The thunder cracks are appropriately loud where intended to startle or punctuate the action.
Extras: Two audio commentaries; featurette; Sarah Karloff interview; trailer.
Verdict: Seek some much-needed shelter from the stresses of modern life at The Old Dark House.