Film Review: The Old Dark House (1963)

Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robert Dillon
Based on: Benighted by J. B. Priestley
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell

William Castle Productions, Hammer Films, 86 Minutes, 77 Minutes (original cinema cut)

Review:

“You see, it’s an old house. Old and dark.” – Potiphar Femm

William Castle has had many of his films remade in more modern times. But this film of his is actually a remake of an older film from 1932 that starred Boris Karloff.

This is also a really interesting production, as it was made by a legendary American horror director and the British horror studio powerhouse, Hammer. Also, the film is in color, which may be normal for Hammer but it isn’t for Castle.

Like Castle’s other movies, this one mixes comedy into the horror story. I feel like this is the most comedic of his films, though, as it really hams it up and also doesn’t deliver as many scares as The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts or The Tingler.

This film also didn’t rely on elaborate gimmicks hidden throughout the theater in an effort to create a more “virtual” viewing experience.

With all these differences between this and Castle’s previous pictures, his quality and creativity still flourished. The finished product is a whimsical and amusing movie with a likable cast and a simple but entertaining plot.

I mostly know Tom Poston from seeing him on the ’80s sitcom Newhart when I was a kid. But he was also on a lot of other shows and worked the celebrity game show circuit constantly. The guy was always on my TV but I can’t recall seeing him in an actual motion picture other than this.

Poston has stellar comedic timing, though, and it’s on full display here, as he carries the picture on his shoulders and is in every scene because he’s sort of the audience’s eyes and ears in this weird, haunted house with the crazy family that lives there.

The rest of the cast is very good too, though. I liked the love triangle story between Poston and the two females leads.

Additionally, this has Robert Morley in it and I’ve liked him ever since I first discovered him in Theatre of Blood alongside Vincent Price.

This 1963 version of The Old Dark House is just a great, goofy popcorn movie that’s horror themed but light on scares and heavy on hilarity.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as Hammer films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Also known as: Thirteen Ghosts (German English title), 13 Fantasmas (Brazil, Mexico, Portugal)
Release Date: July, 1960
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Von Dexter
Cast: Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Rosemary DeCamp, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Woods, Martin Milner, John van Dreelen

William Castle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 85 Minutes, 82 Minutes (black and white version)

Review:

“[making a birthday wish] I wish we owned our own house, and all our furniture that nobody could take away. [wind blows through the windows and blows out the candles, somebody knocks at the door]” – Buck Zorba

From memory, 13 Ghosts was a movie I wasn’t too incredibly fond of. I mean, I liked it. It just didn’t make much of an impact and I always thought it was kind of cheesy, even when I was a kid.

However, this is the first time I’ve seen the film in at least twenty years. I’ve got to say, I have more appreciation for it now and I enjoyed it quite a bit. That could also be due to recently revisiting the 2001 remake, which was a total turd.

This was just a lot of fun and for the subject matter, kind of wholesome. Even if there is a supernatural death at the end of the movie.

I thought that the cast was actually good and the kid wasn’t even that annoying, especially for a child actor circa 1960. You actually kind of feel for the kid when you know he is being taken advantage of by the villain of the story.

For the time, the special effects are really good and they work. I like that there is a bit of a comedic tone with a lot of the ghosts’ antics.

The thing with William Castle movies is that they were interactive experiences when seen in theaters. I think that the whole experience would have been pretty cool to be a part of. That being said, I think it makes the movies suffer a bit on their own but this one was still lighthearted, fun and fairly jovial.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other gimmicky William Castle horror movies.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Release Date: January 14th, 1959 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Richard Kayne, Richard Loring, Von Dexter
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook Jr., Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long

William Castle Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.” – Lance Schroeder

House On Haunted Hill is one of Vincent Price’s most highly regarded films. Granted, it’s not my favorite and barely cracks my top twenty (see here) but it’s still an entertaining affair that’s full of the great gimmickry that director William Castle was known for.

I also love the fact that the exterior of the mansion was actually the Ennis House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was also used in Blade Runner, The Karate Kid Part III, Black Rain and a slew of other films due to it’s odd and iconic look.

The majority of the film takes place indoors and was shot on a sound stage made to look like an opulent mansion but it didn’t feel like it had a cohesive look with the exterior shots, even though the set designers sprinkled in replicas of the Ennis House’s famous building blocks.

The story is kind of hokey, even for 1959 and so are the frights. Still, this movie is kind of cool because of its hokiness and charm.

Overall, the acting is pretty over the top in a lot of scenes but Vincent Price and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. keep things fairly grounded for the most part.

It’s probably a controversial take but even though I enjoy this and love Price in it, I actually prefer the 1999 remake, as it took this concept and gave us something far more frightening and more complex.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as the 1953 version of House of Wax.

Film Review: The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Release Date: December 24th, 1947 (France)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles, William Castle (uncredited), Charles Lederer (uncredited), Fletcher Markle (uncredited)
Based on: If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King
Music by: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia

Mercury Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Personally I don’t like a girlfriend to have a husband, if she’ll fool a husband she’ll fool me.” – Michael O’Hara

While some people label Citizen Kane a film-noir, it really isn’t. It helped give birth to a cinematic style that would very much become noir but it was really nothing more than a damn good biographical drama. That doesn’t mean that Orson Welles didn’t touch noir. He only had a handful of films in the style but he was there, contributing to it after he blessed the world with Kane.

The Lady From Shanghai is one of Welles’ noir pictures. He also worked in the noir style with Journey Into FearThe StrangerTouch of Evil and The Trial.

This film sees Welles play an Irish sailor named O’Hara who meets Rita Hayworth’s Elsa “Rosalie” Bannister when she is being harassed by some men in Central Park. They share some flirtatious banter but O’Hara discovers that Elsa is married to a powerful lawyer. Still, O’Hara decides to take a job offered to him by Elsa. You see, Elsa and her husband are sailing from New York City to San Francisco via the Panama Canal and they need a good seaman. Once on the boat O’Hara meets a strange group of high society types. He is roped into helping one man fake his own death. This doesn’t quite work out for O’Hara, who is also falling deeper for Elsa, despite being employed by her husband. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns in this film, even at less than 90 minutes.

This isn’t Welles best written picture, not that it is bad. it just has a lot going on and if you get distracted, you could find the details hard to follow. It is one of his most energetic though and frankly, I don’t think that it gets enough praise for its amazing special effects and cinematography, outside of the admiration of hardcore Welles fans.

Everything that happens in the last twenty minutes or so is cinematic perfection. The scene in the Chinese opera house to O’Hara stumbling through the funhouse to the big shootout finale in the hall of mirrors is magnificent.

When we see Welles’ O’Hara working his way through the funhouse, it is like something from the Joker’s mind. Hell, it reminds me of the final act in Batman: The Killing Joke, where Batman is working his way through the Joker’s funhouse in an effort to find Commissioner Gordon. In fact, after seeing this film, I’m pretty convinced that Alan Moore was inspired by it when he wrote The Killing Joke.

All the funhouse stuff is impeccably shot. The use of shadows and contrast is visually astounding. Welles had a love of the chiaroscuro look, as well as the crazy angles used in German Expressionist films and he utilizes both amazingly well here. Some of the funhouse shots are reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The scene where O’Hara is walking and the shadows tower above him, moving sporadically is one of the best filmed sequences of the 1940s.

The Lady From Shanghai is an incredible experience in its cinematography alone. The acting is top notch, as is the direction. The story feels a bit clunky, as the schemer tries to take advantage of a legal loophole similar to the plot in Double Indemnity. But all in all, this is a really good picture.

Rating: 8.5/10