When the gimmick guru, William Castle, and the masters of horror, Hammer Productions, joined forces for The Old Dark House, the sky was the limit. As Hammer co-founder James Carreras wrote, "I cannot think of anything more loaded with commercial possibility than a marriage between the chill and chatter schools of Hammer and Bill Castle."
1. Castle beat Hammer to the rights.
Castle secured the rights in 1960, one year before Hammer separately began plans to remake the 1932 film. While promoting another film, Castle visited Hammer’s Bray Studio, and discussions began about a collaboration. The final details were formalized in New York with Anthony Hinds producing and Castle producing and directing.
2. The film deviated from the source material.
J.B. Priestly’s novel Benighted is far from Castle’s humorous take. But the shift was intentional. Castle said, “The picture gives equal emphasis to horror and comedy. The days of the straight shockers have just about run their course.” Additionally, Hammer wanted a “U” rating, so content that was deemed too “adult” was avoided.
3. Boris Karloff was offered a part.
Karloff starred in the 1932 adaption as the mute butler. It was the first time that he ever received top billing. Karloff was offered Robert Morley’s role in this adaption but turned it down because, as he put it, the script wasn’t to his liking (perhaps because of the comedic take).
4. Charles Addams drew the title cards.
Addams is most famous for his cartoons of the creepy clan The Addam’s Family. What began as single comic panels in The New Yorker in the 1930s became a TV series in 1964, one year after the release of The Dark Old House. Addam’s title cards for the film feature his unique style, and his own (hairy) hand appears on screen to sign his own work.
5. Castle had another gimmick.
Castle is best known for his marketing gimmicks used to push ticket sales and hype up his projects, including emerging skeletons (House on Haunted Hill) and electric shock seats (The Tingler). True to form, The Old Dark House had the following: "Get your skeleton key to The Old Dark House. It's your key to big sur-PRIZES if it sets off the Panic Alarm in this theater!"
6. The black-and-white version was shown in theaters.
Despite being shot in color, Columbia Pictures decided to release the film in black-and-white in the United States after disappointing sales. Worse is that the movie wasn’t shown in Britain until three years after its American debut. When it was finally shown, nine minutes were cut out to get a “U” rating (meaning universal or suitable for all ages), rather than its current “A” rating (in which children had to be accompanied by an adult).