Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Queer Cinema: The Old Dark House

Our Pride Month Queer Cinema Filmfest continues. Today: Queens in black and white!

The Femms are one of the oddest families this side of Mockingbird Lane. When a fierce storm forces five strangers to seek refuge in their secluded Welsh manse, we get a brief glimpse of one severely dysfunctional family.

The guests are greeted by Morgan (Boris Karloff), the lumbering mute butler. He glares, serves dinner, and occasionally knocks over a table. When drunk, he is liable to attack both guests and family members at random. He's drunk often, it seems.

Horace Femm welcomes the strangers into the house, somewhat reluctantly. He's a wispy, effeminate man, wanted by the police, something he admits with glee. When not suggesting dinner guests have a potato, Horace (Ernest Thesiger) is keen on enticing visitors to his bedroom. "There are one or two things I should very much like for you to see." I hope one of those things is not his butthole.

Then there is Rebecca Femm, head of the house. She's a bitter, angry lesbian, whose only joy seems to be damning those around her and grabbing the intermittent female breast. Apparently she was never invited to the family orgies and still holds a grudge over it. She's mostly deaf and would rather the guests didn't stay the night.

As for the travelers, they're an odd lot too. We've a boorish capitalist named Sir Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his whore girlfriend. (She's a prostitute by profession.) Also present are Philip Waverton, a man who is clearly homosexual, his long-suffering wife, and their friend, Roger Penderel, a third wheel if there ever was one (why he's tagging along with them is never explained.)

When the electricity finally goes, it's up to Horace to fetch the only oil lamp in the house. Unfortunately, it's been left on the third floor, and he's too much the sissy to go all the way up there. He cons Waverton into getting it.

Along the way Waverton makes a few discoveries, including two more members of the Femm family: Roderick Femm, the 102 year old patriarch (mysteriously played by a woman), and Saul, the pyromaniac nutcase whose only desire is to torch the place and stab as many people as possible. Good times.

Penderel uses the downtime to steal Porterhouse's girl, which she confesses he has no sexual interest in anyway. (Hello! Charles Laughton!) She promises to make a useful man out of Penderel, that is, if Saul doesn't kill them all first.

A head-scratchingly bizarre film, made by a bunch of homos, starring a bunch of homos, about a bunch of homos. In 1932.

Directed by James Whale • Unrated • 1932 • 72 minutes

1 comment:

  1. I started watching this once when I was a kid, but didn't get very far. I'll have to give it another go.