The Old Dark House (1932)

USA, 1932
35mm film, black and white, 1.37:1
mono, English

An American horror film directed by James Whale.

Plot Summary

Stranded in deepest, darkest Wales during a storm, a group of travellers seek shelter in the old dark house belonging to the odd Femm family. The guests are unnerved by the eccentric clan and positively terrified when the hulking butler Morgan becomes drunk and frees Saul, the psychotic pyromaniac brother who has been locked up in a secret room…


* = uncredited

Directed by: James Whale
Copyright MCMXXXII [1932- by Universal Pictures Corp. – Carl Laemmle, president
A Universal picture
Produced by: Carl Laemmle Jr
Screen Play: Benn W. Levy, R.C. Sherriff [uncredited]
From the Novel [Benighted] by: J.B. Priestley
Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson *
Editor: Clarence Kolster *
Music: David Broekman *, Bernhard Kaun *, Heinz Roemheld *
Sound Recordist: William Hedgcock *
Make Up: Jack P. Pierce *
Art Director: Charles D. Hall *

Boris Karloff (Morgan)
Melvyn Douglas (Roger Penderel)
Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse)
Lilian Bond (Gladys [DuCane])
Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm)
Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm)
Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton)
Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton)
John Dudgeon [real name: Elspeth Dudgeon] (Sir Roderick Femm)
Brember Wills (Saul Femm)

Alternative Titles

El caserón de las sombras – Spain
Das Haus des Grauens – Germany
Das Haus des Schreckens – Austria
Överaskade av natten – Sweden
Une soirée étrange – France

See also
Haunted Honeymoon (1986)
The Old Dark House (1963)
Who Killed Who? (1943)

Extracts included in
Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream (1998)
Universal Horror (1998)


American Cinematographer vol.LXIX no.10 (October 1988) pp.42-48
The Old Dark House is one of Universal’s most unusual horror tales, one of Hollywood’s most delightfully visual melodramas, and one of James Whale’s most personal and fascinating works. […] The final result, completed in May, 1932, was a highly peculiar and individual work – purely stylized by Whale. He was a director in every sense of the word; he had even orchestrated a full cacophony of stormy sound effects which underscored the movie. […] The Old Dark House is unique amidst Whale’s famous, oft-seen horror shows: it survives, almost bitterly, almost defiantly, as the director’s most unusual work, a terror tale showcasing his own style, with the least incense-burning to public taste. Stocked with horror flourishes, it is primarily a high exercise in macabre comedy, peopled with ensemble eccentrics, playing on a mad level above the head of many audiences, perhaps delighting the vision of the director more than any audience member who paid to see the new Karloff show in 1932. While Karloff’s Morgan is legendary, the role is small; there are no historic special effects; the star, really and truly, is the director. – from an illustrated article (The Old Dark House: elegant Gothic comedy) by Gregory Mank



  • American Cinematographer vol.66 no.1 (January 1985) pp.33-41 – illustrated article (Jack Pierce – Forgotten make-up genius by Frank Taylor)
  • American Cinematographer vol.69 no.10 (October 1988) pp.42-48 – credits, article
  • Castle of Frankenstein no.21 p.37
  • Cinema Booking Guide Supplement vol.2 no.6 (October 1932) pp.18, 19 – credits, review
  • Classic Images no.172 October 1989 pp.24, 26, 52 – illustrated review, article
  • Classic Images no.286 (April 1999) p.41 – review
  • Classic Images no.297 (March 2000) p.31 – article
  • Fangoria no.150 March 1996 pp.46-47 – illustrated note
  • Filmfax no.61 (June/July 1997) p.52 – illustrated credits, review
  • Kine Weekly 8 September 1932 – note
  • Kine Weekly no.1970 (18 January 1945) p.28 – review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.12 no.133 (January 1945) p.5 – note
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.46 no.546 (July 1979) p.159 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Picturegoer vol.2 no.88 (28 January 1933) p.19 – review


  • After Dracula: The 1930s Horror Film by Alison Peirse pp.32, 46, 53, 128-129, 173, 181
  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror (2nd edition) by Phil Hardy (ed) p.54 – illustrated credits, review
  • Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work by Scott Allen Nollen pp.62-67; 372
  • British Gothic Cinema by Barry Forshaw pp.5, 16, 17, 22, 131, 150
  • Censored Screams: The British Ban on Hollywood Horror in the Thirties by Tom Johnson pp.56-59, 84, 92, 152, 165; 189-190 – notes; credits
  • Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008 by Bruce G. Hallenbeck pp.17-22; 210 – illustrated review; credits
  • English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.21-22, 26, SS, IIS, 187, 275
  • Ghosts and Angels in Hollywood Films by James Robert Parish pp.260-262 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography, 1931-1939 by Bryan Senn pp.119-128
  • Hollywood Cauldron: Thirteen Horror Films from the Genre’s Golden Age by Gregory William Mank – article
  • Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death by James Marriott & Kim Newman p.42
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.290
  • The Horror Factory by Bruce Dettman and Michael Bedford pp.26-29 – article
  • Horrorshows: The A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre by Gene Wright p.23-24 – credits, review
  • James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters by James Curtis – article
  • Of Gods and Monsters by John T. Soister pp.133-142 – illustrated credits, article
  • Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema: Traces of a Lost Decade by Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Charlie Ellbé and Kristopher Woofter (eds.) pp.125n7, 148
  • Reference Guide to Fantastic Films by Walt Lee p.345 – credits
  • Sound Films, 1927-1939: A United States Filmography by Alan G. Fetrow pp.472-473
  • Universal Horrors by Michael Brunas, John Brunas, Tom Weaver – article
  • Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror by Michael Mallory pp.176-176 – illustrated article

Other sources

  • BFI Southbank April 2018 p.17 – illustrated listing (by Justin Johnson)