Crimes at the Dark House is a macabre little film starring the larger-than-life Tod Slaughter as a man who impersonates another in order to gain his fortune and does a poor job of it leading to murders galore. You immediately know a movie is going to be good when its leading character opens the very first scene by driving a stake into another man’s head. While the actual shot takes place off-screen, it being a little jarring for audiences back in 1940, it immediately lets the viewer know what they are in for when they chose to watch this picture. While the film falls squarely in the crime genre, it could also be classified as a horror film due to the actions of its lead character who strangely is a villain, something not so common during the time.
The one thing that really sets this movie apart from anything else is the electric performance from Tod Slaughter. It is not so much that he did a great job, though the man was essentially good, it was instead that he seemed more like a caricature of every bad guy ever seen on stage and screen. The man was loud and boastful, either exclaiming or proclaiming and he was more a cartoon villain than anything else. The man did have a lot of practice by the time this film was released, having played evil men many a time such as the key role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. By this point in time, it was almost as if he was merely playing himself though, which of course is not true, as he was almost exclusively a villain in nearly every picture he appeared in. What is most interesting about the man and his role in this movie, or any other, is that while it was over-the-top and simply ridiculous at times, you would not have it any other way. Simply put, the man was a credit to his craft because he could cause a reaction in the viewer which is more than some could say.
Overall, while there is nothing truly exceptional about this movie, it is worth watching not only for Slaughter’s performance, but for the excessive amount of murders that take place. Every time that someone not only gets near, but even questions the fact that Slaughter is not the real Percival is a death sentence and as such, makes the movie a lot of fun as you try to guess just who will be next on the chopping block. That is probably not what the makers of the film had in mind, but there is a lot humour to be found within and ultimately, it is probably not a bad thing.
Quaint could be a word to describe Crimes at the Dark House, one that is perhaps more accurate than anything else. It is not a film that everyone will enjoy, but if in the mood for something different, this movie will fill that craving.
3 out of 5