As well as recently looking at ‘court-room drama’, in theatre and film, I have also been drawn to another genre – those films that have as integral part of the respective imaginative worlds of each play and screenplay an OLD DARK HOUSE. This ‘house’ could be a castle, a tower, or an abandon mansion home; it could also be whole city, or other imaginative world; it could be a group of cabin, a circus, apartment building. It is the opposite as Spencer’s ‘bower of bliss’. although can be just as deadly, it is a version of hell, exemplified by Freddy Kruger’s ‘boiler-oom’ in Wes Kraven’s A Nightmare on Elm St (1984), Kurtz’s (Marlon Brando) camp in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979). It could be in a murder mystery, a psycho drama, as in Bates Hotel in Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho (1960)), or a ‘comedy-horror’ such as in Franks Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and the various versions of The Cat and the Canary (my favourite being the 1939 version with Bob Hope and Paulette Godard). The point is it could be a vast or could be relatively small place. It is, however, invariably isolated, hostile on the outer, as in Dracula’s Castle and Dr Frankenstein’s castle laboratory, but not necessarily hostile on the inner, such as in Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Following this, it could be a ghost ship, either at sea or in the heavens – or within one’s imagination – a mad-house, an insane asylum. It also exists in numerous works of literature that subsequently were turned into plays and films, such as Miss Havisham’s in David Lean’s version of Charle’s Dicken’s Great Expectations, and the beautiful mansion ‘Manadalay’ in Hitchcock’s version of Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca (1940). ‘The Old Dark House’ is such an integral part of the human imagination, and has existed throughout the history of mankind, from classical drama, exemplified by the Roman Republic comedy playwright, Plautus and his Mostellaria, which translates as The Haunted House, and is perhaps the very first dramatic of use of ‘the old dark house’. Invariably, the narrative journey involves some kind of ‘harrowing of hell’, in which one either survives or not, and, as in Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s Into the Woods (1987), whatever does happen there will be a change, a rebirthing, a re-invention of the self and the specific imaginative world.
This series of articles is devoted to exploring the range, diversity, imaginative responses and uses of ‘the old dark house’.
The first film in this is Wes Kraven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). In this film ‘the old dark house’ is Freddy Kruger’s ‘Boiler-Room’, the place where he was killed by a group of parents determined to get rid of this multiple child-killer. It is into this hell-hole one falls into when one falls asleep, which all those doomed to die do, despite the warning ‘Whatever you do – don’t go to sleep!’ There are numerous things to say about this land-mark horror film, not least being the successful establishment of a memorable, frightening and long-lasting villain, Freddy Kruger, as evident in the subsequent film and television franchise that saw the return of Freddy – again and again and again etc. It is also notably because of ‘Introducing Johnny Depp, and that it also features the legendary ‘Country & Western’ singer, Ronee Blakley. It is also – very scary.
There are many ways to enter Freddy’s ‘boiler-room’, yet they all involve falling, or descending down dark corridors into the depths of this specific underworld hell. What is interesting about Freddy’s ‘boiler-room’ is that is both wet and cold, hot and fiery – a combination of ‘fire and ice’, just as in Dante’s Inferno. This also characteristic of other hell-holes, dripping and wet dark walls with sudden bursts of fire, as in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).