Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Martha Mattox, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Forrest Stanley, Arthur Edmund Carewe, George Siegmann, and Lucien Littlefield
Director: Paul Leni
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
Twenty years to the hour after the death of millionaire Cyrus West, his relatives gather for the reading of his will; West loathed all of them, and he was determined to make them wait to pick at his dead reamins. His strange will leaves everything to his niece (La Plante) but only if she is certified sane by a doctor before dawn. If she is not declared mentally fit, a back-up heir--supposedly unknown to any living soul as the name is on a paper in a sealed envelope--will receive West's estate. As the relatives spend the night, soon the mansion becomes filled with strange and terrifying events... which may or may nt be in the mind of the young heiress--or perhaps even caused by her! Is she insane, or is someone attempting to drive her insane, so that they might gain the West fortune?
The grand-daddy of all Dark Old House mystery films and a collection of what would become standard fare in 1930s horror flicks and B-thrillers--gnarled grasping hands, masked killers, vanishing bodies, secret doors and passages, stylish damsels in distress, inept leading men, and just about anything else you can think of--this film is great fun and a must-see for anyone with a serious interest in the horror genre as an art form, or just a love for the gothic horror genre.
Your level of enjoyment of the early part of the picture will be dictated by your tolerance for the acting style of silent movies, but once the will has been read things start revving into high gear and the tension and action keeps building until the "big reveal" of the villain at the end. What's more, the bits that were supposed to be suspenseful in 1927 remain so today, and the same goes for the bits that were supposed to be funny.
There are a couple of disconnects story-wise--such as the point where one character talks another out of going for the police by saying that she'll do it and then never goes anywhere--but those are more than made up for by scenes such as the one with the main character fleeing in terror down a curtain-lined hallway, the stylish arrival of the police on the scene, and the action-filled climax that is equal-parts funny and frightening and which cuts back and forth between a milk-cart speeding through the night and a furious battle between the comic relief character who's emerged as the film's hero and the caped, murdering madman.
If you enjoyed just about any old horror film, you should check out this flick, even if you have yourself convinced you "hate silent movies." This film shows that the folks at Universal Pictures knew how to make a good horror film from the beginning.