Monday 14 May 2018


Directed by: James Whale, Starring: Boris Karloff, Melvyn
Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton. Horror/Comedy, US 1932, 72mins, Cert PG.

“Have a potato!”

Watching THE OLD DARK HOUSE for the first time courtesy of this stunning 4K restoration Blu-ray was quite a sentimental experience for me. My late father would often recall the film with a wistful fondness whenever I asked him about horror films he’d seen in his youth. (He was 12 when the film was released, but I’m not sure exactly when he first saw it). Considering all the splatter and gore I made him sit through with me on VHS in the 1980’s it’s hardly surprising the poor man looked back with fond nostalgia for the more gentile horrors conjured up by James Whale!

The first thought that strikes me upon watching the film is that the actual horror is somewhat perfunctory. Yes the classic elements are all in place, a stormy inhospitable night, a remote cut-off location with a spooky old dark house, a facially scarred menacing mute butler (Karloff), and a family secret locked away in the attic. Yet the stagey dialogue (screenplay by Benn W. Levy based on the novel ‘Benighted’ from J.B. Priestley) is positively bristling with pithy exchanges and a liberal sprinkling of camp – the latter of which is mostly provided by Ernest Thesiger and his wondrously expressive nostrils as Horace “Have a potato” Femm. Like a gothic Kenneth Williams, the flickering flames and candle-light accentuate his bird-like features alarmingly well. Credit where it’s due then to Whale and his cinematographer collaborator Arthur Edeson (FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN), who wring every drop of gothic atmosphere from their cavernous mansion with billowing drapes and bolted rooms of mystery. 

The plot, a gossamer thread upon which Whale spins his theatrical web of camp comedic social satire, is a classic established trope of the horror genre. A group of stranded travellers, married couple Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart) and gooseberry Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), abandon their car after torrential rain causes a landslide forcing them to seek shelter at the Femm ancestral home. Once ensconced around a warming fire and tucking into a hearty plate of beef and potatoes, they are joined by Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his chorus-line companion Gladys (Lilian Bond) who are similarly stranded. Their somewhat reluctant hosts are the twitchy nervy Horace (Thesiger), his deaf, religiously fanatical sister Rebecca “No beds!” (Eva Moore), and Boris Karloff’s grunting alcoholic butler. Upstairs lurks the 102 year-old father of Horace and Rebecca (played by actress Elspeth Dudgeon) and behind a further locked door lurks the other Femm family member, Saul (Brember Wills), a pyromaniac in true ‘Jane Eyre’ fashion.

After his hugely successful adaption of Mary Shelley’s ‘Modern Prometheus’, James Whale was given near carte blanche with this picture and he seems to have jolly well run riot with his humorous sensibilities. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of pure gothic horror. A stunning scene of shadow play and a bone-chilling description by Eva Moore of a how a sibling died in agony provide genuine menace in amongst the near-farcical comings and goings on.

It’s a splendidly entertaining spritely 72 minutes, ripe and rich in both dialogue and atmosphere, and gorgeously restored in this pristine 4K restoration which makes a visit to THE OLD DARK HOUSE irresistible.    

 **** (Out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Saturday 5 May 2018

BRAVEN (2018)

Directed by: Lin Oeding, Starring: Jason Momoa, Stephen
Lang, Garret Dillahunt, Jill Wagner. Action, Canada 2017, 94mins, Cert 15.

Straw Logs

If you fancied having your photo taken with bearded beefcake Jason (‘Aquaman’) Momoa and his autograph on an 8x10 at London Film and Comic Con in July 2018, it would have set you back £150. On the other hand , you could instead have picked up a copy of this modest yet competent DTV revenge actioner for a fraction of the price.

Joe Braven is a hard-working rugged Newfoundland logging family man. When he’s not supervising his tree-felling business, he’s at home playing snowballs with his beautiful wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner), falling asleep whilst reading bedtime stories to his sweet young daughter Charlotte, and getting increasingly concerned about his ‘pops’ Linden (Stephen Lang). Unfortunately pops is displaying increasingly Alzheimer-like symptoms which come to a head (and result in stitches to his) when they cause him to get duffed up in a bar after mistaking a random female patron for his deceased wife. Having extrapolated pops from aforementioned brawl by displaying some impressive muscle flexing, Joe decides it’s time to take pops up to his hunting cabin in the woods for some father-son bonding and to raise the thorny issue of supervised care for pops. Unfortunately a gang of drug traffickers have stashed a sack load of heroin in the cabin, and they’re rather anxious to retrieve it: at all costs. 

The criminals are led by Garret Dillahunt’s ‘Kassen’, a man so ruthless he ignores a waitresses’ reproach for smoking in a diner, and rather more ominously thinks nothing of repeatedly slamming an incompetent accomplice’s face down into the table in full view of the diner’s clientele!

So, after 45 minutes of patient set-up, Joe Braven eventually gets to be brave as a stakeout siege unfolds around the snowbound cabin. The stakes are raised higher still when Joe realises his daughter has snuck along for the ride – and wife Stephanie isn’t far behind either. Time then for Joe to get busy improvising with bow and arrow, axe, and in one audaciously daft sequence, a bear-trap, as he and sharp-shooting sniper/hunter pops defend the cabin against the heavily armed drug mob.

The stunning snowbound Newfoundland locations provide a visually arresting backdrop against which Jason Momoa and a well-drilled troop of stuntmen stage some reasonably decent action sequences. Momoa acquits himself convincingly enough in both the family man scenes and when going mano a mano against the one dimensional baddies. Thundering through the woods like a man mountain and hurling flaming pick axes with aplomb, I couldn’t help think Momoa would make a formidable Jason Voorhees if Paramount ever gets their act together and commission another instalment. Mind you, would Momoa agree to hiding his chiselled jawbone by donning a hockey mask and keeping his sculptured musculature under wraps whilst chopping up camp counsellors?

Stephen Lang reliably adds value as Momoa’s vulnerable dad, managing to wring some genuine pathos out of a largely by-the-numbers script before his future care dilemma is unceremoniously solved. Jill Wagner chips in with a feisty and welcome late-turn in the archery department too. 

One aspect of the production that niggled me was the actual hunting cabin which gave the appearance it was newly built rather than the ye oldie hunting lodge where father and son supposedly bonded for years. (Watching the extras my suspicions were confirmed, it was indeed custom-constructed for the film). Given the implausible mayhem occurring on screen, this might sound like pedantic nitpicking, but it took me out of the narrative at times when it really need not have. But freshly built IKEA cabin aside, overall it’s a solid undemanding piece of ‘15’ rated violent(ish) entertainment.

Could it launch a franchise ala Liam Neeson’s TAKEN? Who knows? But if DC’s upcoming AQUAMAN proves to be a washout, [it wasn't, I really enjoyed it] Momoa can always keep his head and rippling shoulders above water with stuff like BRAVEN - or appearances at comic cons.

*** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was originally published by FrightFest.