I promised Ms. Spenser a good old-fashioned horror double bill: The Old Dark House/Mr. Sardonicus (1963/1961)? Once again, I owe her a horror movie.
The Old Dark House is a loose remake of the 1932 James Whale creepy house story, directed and produced by shock-schlock meister William Castle. About the only things he kept were the setting and the name of the family that lived in the house: the titter-worthy Femms. Made for Hammer Films, it starts in a London casino where American Tom Poston is looking for his flatmate Peter Bull. Poston lives in the flat at night, Bull during the day - something he explains several times but can't explain. They make a run up to the ancestral home, but when Poston arrives, he finds Bull dead - or is he?
We meet the whole creepy family, although some are kept locked away. Robert Morely plays the head of the family, a gun collector. Mervyn Johns is the meek religious nut. Janette Scott is the sweet girl who doesn't really fit in, while Fenella Fielding is the nympho black widow type who does. Fielding has a very sexy, husky voice, similar to Glynnis Johns. Lovely name too.
As you might guess, this is a farce, not a horror movie (although there is a body count). It's pretty funny too, and you don't need to have seen the original. They probably overdid the comedy sound effects and silly music though.
Mr. Sardonicus is the real thing. It starts with William Castle with his signature cigar in foggy London introducing the movie. It stars prominent physician Ronald Lewis, who gets a letter from his lost love Audrey Dalton. She beseeches him to visit her and her husband in the tiny country of Gorbsmak, just past Fredonia. It seems that her husband, the Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe) has a problem, and he thinks Lewis can help. You see, he has a hideous skull-like rictus, like The Man Who Laughed. If Lewis can cure him, he can have the Baron's wife. If not, their brutish man-servant Krull (Oscar Homolka!) will torture her. He has a thing he does with leeches to the maid-servant...
This is quite creepy and justly famous for it's makeup effects. It's also famous for one of Castle's goofy gimmicks - he stops the movie and tells everyone in the audience to hold up their glow-in-the-dark cards with thumbs up or thumbs down. Should the villain be punished or will the audience show mercy? It's no surprise that he only filmed one ending. He sure knew his audiences and what they want.