Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Horror of it All (1964)

A now obscure horror comedy in The Old Dark House mode.  In fact, to a large extent it is a remake of the 1932 Old Dark House, but played as comedy - much as the official remake of that film was.  Indeed, I can only imagine that The Horror of it All was made to attempt to cash in on the expected release of the 1963 Old Dark House remake, a feeling reinforced by the fact that, like that film, The Horror of it All had its UK release put back until 1966.  The similarities between the two films are blatant: both involve their imported American lead driving to an isolated country house and being stranded there after their cars are wrecked, and encountering an eccentric family living there.  In both films, someone is intent upon murdering family members in pursuit of an inheritance.  Whereas in The Old Dark House remake Tom Poston is delivering a car to the house but ends up falling for the 'normal' female family member, in Horror of it All, Pat Boone goes there to ask the 'normal' girl's uncle for her hand in marriage.  Both film's also include a vampish 'weird' female family member as a rival potential love interest for the hero and an apparently deranged and violent family member, (in the case of Horror of it All, he's kept locked up).  Interestingly, although Fenella Fielding plays the vampish character in Old Dark House, Andre Melee's equivalent character in Horror of it All seems to provide the template for Fielding's subsequent celebrated turn in Carry on Screaming.

To be fair, The Horror of it All actually bears more resemblance to the original Old Dark House than its own remake does, in terms of some of the characters, at least.  There's the aged bedridden family patriach upstairs, in both, and a mentally unstable relative kept locked away as a family secret in both films.  All that's lacking is a murderous butler in the Karloff mould.  But, like the Old Dark House remake, The Horror of it All eschews the black humour of James Whale's original in favour of attempts at far broader, often slapstick, comedy.  And, like the remake, it generally fails in this respect.  The script simply isn't sharp enough and the characters not interesting enough.  In addition to the attempts at humour, the presence of Pat Boone in the lead means that a musical number also has to be endured.  It doesn't help that the whole thing unfolds at a leaden pace, with every scene feeling as if it has been allowed to run too long.  Despite being only seventy five minutes long, the film drags interminably.  Ironically, bearing in mind that its intended rival, the Old Dark House remake, was produced by Hammer, The Horror of it All was directed by erstwhile Hammer director Terence Fisher, who had been at the helm of most of the company's early Gothic horror hits.  Unfortunately, his slow and deliberate style, while well suited to building the suspense essential to Gothic horror films, simply doesn't work in a comedy context.  Moreover, Fisher seems to be on autopilot mode as far as his direction of The Horror of it All goes, making little of the horror elements.

The Horror of it All ends on a confused note: having apparently copied the 'twist' ending from the Old Dark House remake, it then seems to have second thoughts, adding a second 'twist' and a conventional happy ending.  All of which look suspiciously like they were an afterthought, shot and tacked on after the original ending tested badly with preview audiences.  Still, it does boast a half decent cast which includes Dennis Price, Valentine Dyall and Eric Chitty.  The stand out performance, though, belongs to Andree Melly as the vampire-like cousin.  A typical Lippert production, (Robert Lippert was a UK-based American producer specialising in producing low-budget second features), The Horror of it All was paired with a far more impressive Lippert production, Witchcraft, (which was co-produced with Jack Parsons, a sort of British equivalent to Lippert), on its US release, which, coincidentally, was directed by another Hammer alumni, Don Sharp.  Little seen nowadays, The Horror of it All, despite some impressive credentials, such as the presence of Terence Fisher in the director's chair, sadly offers little in the way of either horror or humour.



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