The Horror Pod Class Episode 104: The Old Dark House
Tyler: Live from the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial High School AV Room
Welcome to episode 104 of The Horror Pod Class. My name is Tyler and I run Signal Horizon a magazine dedicated to exploring genre fiction in and out of the classroom.
Tyler: Tonight on the Horror Pod Class we are going to spend some time talking about what we have been watching and reading, we will help you find some free genre content on the internet and finally we will spend the remainder of the episode discussing The Boris Karloff Classic The Old Dark House. As you might have noticed this season you can check out all of back episodes on Itunes and any other podcatchers and the live version on our Youtube channel!
What are we interested in this week.
TYLER: Jason Teal final copy (show everyone). New Daniel Kraus (Teddy Bear Craziness) Excellent new Cursed Films Blu with great commentary.
I actually read something new this week! New Junji Ito came out, Venus in the Blind Spot. The only downside is that it’s got reprints of a couple of stories that were already available in English, but it has new color pages and his adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s “The Human Chair” is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Dark Corners of the Web:
Ink Heist podcast How to Stay Afloat When Drowning Daniel Braum. It is in the new Ellen Datlow best horror of the year volume 12.
What role does The Old Dark House play in the creation of modern horror tropes?
Summary: Frankenstein director James Whale turned J.B. Priestley’s novel “Benighted” into a nerve-jangling tale (originally released in 1932) that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come. Stranded travelers stumble upon a strange old house, and find themselves at the mercy of a highly eccentric and potentially dangerous family. This atmospheric thriller features an unforgettable post-Frankenstein horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler Morgan. Also starring in early-career roles are Melvin Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart of Titanic.
|Complete credited cast:|
|Charles Laughton||…||Sir William Porterhouse|
|Lilian Bond||…||Gladys (as Lillian Bond)|
|Ernest Thesiger||…||Horace Femm|
|Eva Moore||…||Rebecca Femm|
|Raymond Massey||…||Philip Waverton|
|Gloria Stuart||…||Margaret Waverton|
|Elspeth Dudgeon||…||Sir Roderick Femm (as John Dudgeon)|
|Brember Wills||…||Saul Femm|
So I love Haunted Honeymoon. Love it and this feels so much like it.
We also need to talk about the book, and how I helped get it back into print!
Its Precode-Orrin Talk to us about what Precode means in terms of cinema
Pre-code refers to movies that were made before the adoption of the Motion Picture Production Code, more popularly known as the Hays Code, which was adopted in 1930 but not really enforced until around ‘34. It ostensibly ran until the 1960s, but by then independent productions and movies coming in from foreign markets made it basically impossible to enforce.
I mean, the Hays Code and pre-code cinema could be, like, its own entire podcast, let alone episode, but the gist is that, at the end of the 1920s, the government was threatening to start censoring movies. So Hollywood, in the form of what would become today’s Motion Picture Association of America (or MPAA) headed them off by deciding to basically self-censor by creating the Hays Code (which, we call it that after the guy who was president of the organization at the time).
The Code predated movie ratings which, incidentally, are also self-applied by the MPAA and serve the exact same function for the exact same reason.
The Hays Code essentially spelled out what you couldn’t have in a movie. There’s a great image that makes the round sometimes that shows a bunch of the stuff you supposedly weren’t allowed to show, all in one picture:
Pre-code movies tend to be a lot weirder and more lurid than we expect movies from the ‘30s to be, basically. They’re not really ever graphic, by modern standards, but they deal in topics that would definitely have been taboo under the Hays Code. (Island of Lost Souls is a great example. Dr. Moreau is trying to breed the captured, square-jawed hero with a cat woman to make animal people, and is ultimately vivisected by his own creatures. You never see any of it happen, but it’s all a lot more sweaty and suggestive and psychosexual than it would be just a few years later.)
Even during the heyday of the Code, though, plenty of directors, Whale among them, seemed to delight in pressing at the edges of what was allowed, and enforcement was never terribly consistent.
There’s a biopic about James Whale from 1998 where he’s played by Ian McKellan which is perfect because if there is one present-day actor who has even a tenth of the bitchy queen presence of Ernest Thesiger, it’s Ian McKellan.
I’m gonna talk about the Old Dark House subgenre, and why this movie is actually not a great example of it. This write-up is a pretty good summary, even if it (bafflingly) gets a whole bunch of things wrong in its entry for tonight’s actual film:
Old Dark House movies were usually Scooby-Doo-esque murder mysteries where a handful of eccentric characters were all gathered in a house on a dark and stormy night, often for the reading of a will, and then knocked off by some sinister figure who turned out to be one of their number before the night was done.
Other Horror Comedies that use this formula
Nothing But Trouble
I know there are a lot.
Thieger’s character cyper for Whales own homesexuality. This article describes his character as BITCHY AND EYE ROLLING which i kind of love. https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/old-dark-house-james-whale
I went into this expecting an old black-and-white horror movie. What I got was an old black-and-white movie that consisted largely of people being passive-aggressive at each other in an old house, which I guess is about as good.
Yeah… pretty gay.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.