What a great and weird film...scary, funny, unsettling, sophisticated. And the Femm family..."They were all godless here. They used to bring their women here - brazen, lolling creatures in silks and satins. They filled the house with laughter and sin, laughter and sin. And if I ever went down among them, my own father and brothers - they would tell me to go away and pray, and I prayed - and left them with their lustful red and white women." "The fact is, Morgan is an uncivilized brute. Sometimes he drinks heavily. A night like this will set him going and once he's drunk he's rather dangerous." "Have a potato?" Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm is a movie unto himself. The film stars one of my favorite actors, Melvyn Douglas, as a skeptical, somewhat disallusioned and reluctant hero.
Three travelers, motoring through the Welsh mountains late at night, are caught in a cold, thundering downpour. Their map is useless, the road is getting washed out and they are lost. Then they see a light from a lonely hulk of a large stone house. They pull up and run to the door, knocking loudly. The door opens, slightly. Staring at them is an unkempt, bearded mute with a mutilated face. A reedy, unseen voice tells them to enter.
And that's just the first five minutes.
For the next hour we witness how these three travelers, Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), his friend Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey) and Waverton's wife, Margaret (Gloria Stuart), plus two other lost souls, William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his companion, Gladys DuCane (Lillian Bond), deal with the eccentric and strange Femm family and the family's manservant, Morgan (Boris Karloff). The Femms and Morgan are more than eccentric; they can be unpleasant and dangerous. There's Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger), skeletal, elderly and effete; his deaf and religiously fanatical sister, Rebecca (Eva Moore); their psychotic and murderous brother, Saul (Brember Wills) who must always be kept locked up; and their 102 year old aged father, Sir Roderick Femm, who is bed-ridden.
Most of the movie is shot in the great room of the Femm house or up the stairs. The only light is by candlelight, the fireplace or dim electric light while it lasts. Shadows are everywhere, dark shadows that can hide more than secrets. And throughout the long night the rain keeps pouring down.
Does anyone die? Well, one. Is this a Boris Karloff monster movie? Nope. Karloff as Morgan plays an important role, but the movie isn't about him. The movie is about style. It's indirect and clever and at times it is very amusing. Certainly the cast couldn't have been improved upon, especially the actors playing the unnerving Femm siblings.
The movie, in my view, holds up very well.