With an all star cast,this film directed by James Whale who later went on to direct Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is,on one hand typical of a genre that was already becoming a cliche thanks to earlier films such as The Cat and the Canary in the early 1930s when it was released,but on the other hand represents probably the finest of it's kind with genuine chills and laughs along the way.
The story centres on travellers in Wales who,during a terrible storm,seek shelter in the 'Old Dark House' with it's strange inhabitants including Horace Femm,superbly played by Ernst Thesiger later to consolidate his place in the Horror Hall of Fame in Bride of Frankenstein,Karloff's Morgan the Butler - the 'brute mute' whose behaviour changes dramatically with a taste of alcohol,Horace's mad sister,their 102-year-old father,and their homicidal pyromaniac brother who is safely locked away in a room on the highest floor of the house........until Morgan changes matters somewhat.
Charles Laughton,with a heavy Lancastrian accent and scene-stealing (?spoiling) manner and a young Gloria Stuart (later to star in James Cameron's Titanic in 1997) provide the comic relief.
As a macabre comedy,it had no peer until the Bride of Frankenstein was made 2 years later.
There are genuinely scary moments during the 72 minute ride,with superb plot and character development during the film although some aspects of the story seem more unbelievable than the actual horror parts (eg.2 characters meeting for the first time,falling madly in love and a subsequent proposal of marriage in less than 24 hours).
The film stands up well today,with good DVD transfer and sound (thanks to the discovery of a copy on laser disc some years back) and I'd thoroughly recommend it as a purchase for genuine horror fans - to be watched on a dark night,with the lights off,the fire roaring,and a mug of cocoa by your side.....just DON'T LOOK BEHIND YOU ! ! !