2. A black and white film: The Old Dark House (1932)
List Progress: 10/12 (+16)
I’ve been on a horror kick this week, thanks to a trial on the subscription service Shudder, so I wanted to round it out with a classic. The Old Dark House is a very traditional gothic horror film, starring Boris Karloff himself as the hulking butler of a strange house, full of shadows and mysteries. On a stormy night, five different people find themselves stranded at the titular remote house and drawn into the dark lives of the family that lives there, secluded away from the world. Looking at it in 2020, you can see a lot of the influences that would shape later horror, but as a film on its own, it leaves a bit to be desired.
The Old Dark House is thick on atmosphere, introducing the interlopers to the crude old family in the manor slowly and filling every crook and corner with foreboding. But that ends up playing against the film as a whole, as elements are kept mysterious for a bit too long to make any sort of conclusion satisfying. A surprise madman is introduced so late into the movie that it feels underwhelming when most of the climax is centered around him, as opposed to the characters we have spent more time with. The middle also drags a fair bit with a love story that doesn’t add a great deal, though considering that the romantic interest is played by suave leading man-type Melvyn Douglas, contemporary audiences probably saw it differently.
This is still a lovely film to watch, the cinematography and set design of the house are great. And I have a real desire to go back and watch movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Young Frankenstein now, ones that were sending up this original style. I am glad I watched The Old Dark House for the historical value and a better understanding of the roots of horror, but I probably won’t be seeking it out again by itself.
Would I Recommend It: A soft yes.
Bonus Watching: The Quiet Room (2018)
We watched this 30 min horror film because it had Alaska Thunderfuck, a former contestant from Ru Paul’s Drag Race playing a demon…and it turned out to be one of the most tense, atmospheric, touching films I’ve seen in a long time. I was not expecting a drama for a film with a drag queen in a leading role, but it knocked me back on my heels and proved my assumptions wrong.
Part of me wanted The Quiet Room to be feature-length because I wanted More, but I also know that so much of its strength is how incredibly tight it is. Every set-up has a payoff, every moment builds either the story or the atmosphere, there is no waste.
The Quiet Room takes place in a mental institution, but the terror is never from “whoOOoooOOo, the crazies will get you!”, it’s from the depersonalization the main character endures and the loneliness of being in the business of wellness. It’s not About the intersection of queerness and mental health, Michael is not in the institution Because he’s queer, but the prevalence of queer people in mental institutions is handled very matter-of-factly. I highly, highly recommend this movie.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely.
Bonus Watching: Lizzie (2018)
Watching this movie the day after watching The Quiet Room put it at a real disadvantage, as the first is a masterclass in editing and pacing, and Lizzie…is not. This very fictionalized telling of the Lizzie Borden murders is not bad, but it takes itself so achingly seriously that it ends up with a lot of dead air.
Chloe Sevigny plays Lizzie Borden and Kristen Stewart plays the Borden family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan, in the months leading up to Borden’s alleged 1892 murders of her father and stepmother. This is the sort of period drama with a lot of dramatic whispering and people silently watching maids out of high windows. I am usually a sucker for that style, especially in shows like the 2017 Alias Grace miniseries, but this one pushed the formula so far as to strain patience. You have to be a pretty dedicated lover of period pieces for this one.
But to the film’s credit, for a story with a foregone conclusion of an ending, they do manage to keep tension high and manage some variations that don’t come across as cheap twists. If you are a fan of Sevigny or Stewart, it is a solid time, though I would bring something to do with your hands. It is a good movie to crochet to.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you feel patient.