This film stars Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton, with support from Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart. It was based on a novel by J.B. Priestley, and directed by the usually dependable James Whale, and is only an hour and twelve minutes long. Why then is it so slow? Well, it is more interested in characterization than shocks, and while billed as a creepy comedy, it is no more funny than it is scary. Only the effects did not disappoint. There is a harrowing thunderstorm with Massey driving a car with open sides (the roof is up) while the road runs with several inches of water. His passengers are Stuart as his wife and Douglas as their unmarried friend. At one point the hillside crashes into the road just after their car has gone by. The landslide is photographed from behind the car and you can’t be sure they weren’t trapped until the next shot shows them motoring along and fighting each other over what to do next, just as they were before. They are driving through Wales and eventually spot the lights of a grand old house. The decision to stop and get off the road is an easy one, and seems the smart thing to do until the door is opened by Karloff with a huge beard and facial scars. He is the mute butler (well, he can growl) to a pair of siblings played by Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore. There are two other family members who are kept secret from the guests as long as possible. One is dying and one is murderously insane (and is defended by Karloff). Another car arrives, carrying Charles Laughton and Lilian Bond, and the five guests must work together to try to survive. So much promise, no many possibilities for suspense and thrills – and none are realized.
The movie was remade in 1963 by William Castle, filmed in England as a Castle/Hammer co-production, starring Tom Poston and a slew of accomplished English actors, and while it is funnier, it is also sadly lacking in shocks. Maybe I’ll read the book.