William Castle’s Old Dark House

Robert Morley (right) welcomes Tom Poston (left) to Femm Hall. Image zzzz
Robert Morley (right) welcomes Tom Poston (left) to The Old Dark House. Image: Midnight Only.


Let’s get one thing straight.

William Castle‘s The Old Dark House (1963) is often pooh-poohed as an inferior film. Just do an online search for this comedy-horror-mystery and watch the disdain fill your screen.

Listen to us, Dear Reader; forsake these naysayers. We think that if you’re ever in the mood for a rather dark and twisted comedy, The Old Dark House will be just the ticket.

But first: Who is this guy by the name of Castle?

William Castle (1941-1977), American producer and director, is best known for low-budget horror flicks that have gained a sizable cult following over the decades. Castle was also famous for his innovative movie “gimmicks.” For example, when 1959’s House on Haunted Hill was released, Castle rigged a plastic skeleton in movie theatres to fly through the audience at a crucial moment during the film.

SO! How do you like him so far?

The Old Dark House was the only movie that Castle made at British Hammer Films. The film itself is a remake of the highly-praised 1932 version, and is loosely based on the 1927 novel Benighted by J.B. Priestley.

The only trouble with this film, in our opinion, is that you’re supposed to figure out which character is a murderer but you end up having too much fun to even try.

Tom Poston plays Tom Penderel, an American car salesman who lives in England. One stormy night, he is asked to deliver a car to Femm Hall, his friend’s old stone fortress. When he arrives at the decrepit citadel, Poston discovers his friend is newly and suddenly deceased. Poston is invited to stay the night with his friend’s bizarre but delightful relatives, some of whom will come to an untimely end during the night.

By the time the movie is over, there will also be several attempts on Poston’s life via acid, quicksand, a meat cleaver and – worst of all – an angry father.

The utterly fantastic Robert Morley, who portrays the head of the household, has some of the funniest lines in the movie. We marvel that he is able to deliver such droll lines with a deadpan face. For instance, when he invites Poston to stay, Morley says meaningfully, “It’s not every day we have an American for dinner. It will be a treat for us all.”

Another wonderful cast member is Joyce Grenfell, who plays the mother of Poston’s deceased friend. She is a habitual knitter who knits the story of her life into her creations. In one scene she shows Morley her knitting and cheerfully explains, “[This is] the day I lost my earrings, the day we lost mother.” It’s a pity she’s killed off so early in the film.

Every character is outlandish and entertaining, but we’ll leave the rest to discover for yourself.

We also wanted to touch on the brilliant set design of Femm Hall. Light fixtures are askew, curtains are disheveled, and expensive china is placed everywhere to catch leaky rainwater. You almost want to watch the film again to gaze at the abundance of quirky props: mismatched furniture, stuffed animal heads and a painting that says, “Don’t Worry – It May Not Happen.”

And what of William Castle in all this? Castle takes pains to develop the plot, with all its intricacies, but the movie doesn’t feel long. It clips along at a fast pace and when it’s finished you can’t believe it’s over already.

The Old Dark House was not well received by critics when it was first released, and there are folks today who dismiss it. But we think you’ll find this movie charming in a dark sort of way. You’ll have as much fun watching it as, we suspect, William Castle had making it.

The Old Dark House: Starring Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott. Directed by William Castle. Written by Robert Dillon. Hammer Film Productions, Colour, 1963, 86 mins.

This post is part of The William Castle Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Last Drive In and Goregirl’s Dungeon.




  1. Great post and great thoughts on a truly wonderfully delightful (and a little bit wicked) film. I can’t believe people don’t appreciate this film! Why so serious world? It’s time to put William Castle’s films back in theaters for late night weekend shows. It’s time for Castle to re-emerge to a new generation of movie fans.


  2. I had completely forgotten that Joyce Grenfell was in the film! She is delightful in whatever role she plays. I remember not liking this movie when I first watched it, probably because I had such high expectations of a British “House on Haunted Hill” with comedy thrown in, and it fell short. But every movie deserves a second viewing, so I’ll give this one another go!


    • Joyce Grenfell alone is worth the price of admission. I really am disappointed she is removed so early from the film.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re going to give this film another go. Thanks for dropping by! 🙂


  3. Ruth, I’m delighted that you’re here in the William Castle Blogathon, too — even more so, since Tom Poston was a favorite at Team Bartilucci HQ since our parents showed them to us when we were mere tykes. How cool that your fun review is also represented at the Blogathon with the 1963 version of THE OLD DARK HOUSE (the year I was born), plus Team B. will also be posting a double-feature of ZOTZ!, also with Poston, and THE SPIRIT IS WILLING with Sid Caesar and Vera Miles,

    I had no idea that Hammer Films had filmed THE OLD DARK HOUSE. With all those witty Brits like Robert Morley and Joyce Grenfell, I laughed out loud over your quip “Watch the disdain fill your screen. But as far as we’re concerned, only a party-pooper wouldn’t get a kick out of this playfully macabre film, laced with your always-witty comments! Swell job, my friend, as always! 😀


    • Dor, I’m looking forward to reading your double-header. Glad to hear Poston is a fave at Tran B! 🙂 He’s a pleasure to watch anytime, isn’t he? It’s too bad he didn’t have a more illustrious career.


      • Ruth, while it’s true that Tom Poston only made relatively few movies, he still enjoyed a long, successful TV comedy career, especially on the various TV series where he was a regular supporting player, bless him, from STEVE ALLEN to Bob Newhart’s various TV series! Just goes to show you can’t keep a great comedian down! 🙂


  4. I’m all over this one! Honestly, you had me at Robert Morly (he just cracks me up). But I’ve never heard of this one either and it sounds like a must see for me. And, bonus, our library has a lot of Castle’s movies, so I’ll bet I’ll find it there. Thanks for this R.A.!


  5. I’m with Sarah. I’ve not heard of this one either but Robt. Morley’s name on the marquee is always worth the price of admission. And it will be good to see Tom Poston in something other than a half-hour sit-com re-run, too. Besides, this is about the only “scary” film type I can handle, one that doesn’t take itself so seriously. Thanks for suggesting another film for me to watch.


  6. I haven’t seen this movies in ages and you have inspired me to check it out again. Robert Morley is always fun (he’s awesome in the delightfully twisted THEATRE OF BLOOD with Vincent Price and Diana Rigg). Didn’t Tom Poston marry Suzanne Pleshette?


  7. I’ve seen a fair few William Castle movies, Ruth, but not this one…it sounds like fun, and who doesn’t like an “old dark house” movie? Not sure about Tom Posten as the lead, though…but you’ve sold me on checking this one out sometime. I have to say I agree with you re: ignoring the naysayers on boards like the IMDB. There are any number of films that I personally adore that come in for a good thrashing from such “critics.” Always a good policy to try it first and make up your own mind.

    Thanks for the nifty review!


    • You may be pleasantly surprised at Tom Poston as the lead. I think he’s a good fit in this zany movie.

      I agree re: critics. It’s always interesting to see what they they say about certain movies but, in the end, we all enjoy – or dislike – movies for our own reasons.


  8. First of all, thank you for stopping by my blog and for leaving your condolences on the loss of my sweet Nikki dog. Losing her has been difficult, but the caring and kindness of friends has been comforting.

    About this movie, I just have to say that I regularly find myself enjoying films that critics (or even other classic film viewers) bash. I’ve actually begun staying away from negative reviews, as I find they can cloud my enjoyment of a film. I adhere to the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

    I had never heard of William Castle before this blogathon. Thanks for broadening my knowledge base a bit. The skeleton flying through the air thing would have probably scared me out of my wits.


    • Critics’ reviews can sway a person’s opinion, and I try not to read them until after I’ve seen the film. You are the kind of person who always tries to find something good to say, which is why your reviews are always a pleasure to read.


  9. Wow, I would really like to see this! And I want a painting that says “Don’t worry – it may not happen.” I love it! I’ve never heard of this one, Ruth, but you can bet it has made my must-see list. Good stuff! (As always.)


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