Saturday, 18 August 2012

Benighted

After listening to one of the fascinating 1951 Down Place podcasts about Hammer Films, I managed to borrow J B Priestley's book from the library. This is the original source for the excellent 1932 James Whale film The old dark house and the frankly awful reimagining from Hammer, released in 1963. The podcast confirmed that it wasn't worth my rewatching the Hammer version and that, basically, it was much more of a William Castle film than a Hammer Film.

The book itself (called Benighted) is a pleasantly old fashioned story (first published in 1927) that defines the mood and the plot of the earlier film very well. There are no ghosts or supernatural monsters here, or any implication that the book is that kind of story. The plot is fairly simple: a group of travellers is forced to seek refuge from a severe storm and flooding in an isolated country house, which turns out to be owned and populated by an eccentric family, some of whose members have "mental health problems". The characters muse about life and love and there are some interesting insights into the mores of the UK in the 1920s. The James Whale film has a nice, quirky humour (as you might expect from Whale) and excellent performances by (amongst others) Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger and Boris Karloff. My memory of the Hammer film is that it doesn't touch the original in atmosphere, that Castle takes many more liberties than Whale did with the novel, and that Castle's attempts at humour and thrills both fall flat. As often, the original film is by far the best. Definitely an exception to the rule that Hammer remakes are as good as, if not better than, the Universal versions of the 1930s and 40s.