Monday, January 30, 2023

Open in app or online Is THE MENU (2022) really just THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)?

THE MENU (2022) is a psychodrama/dark comedy centered around a meal served at the most exclusive restaurant in the world called Hawthorne. The venue is situated on an isolated island where the food is locally sourced and only the privileged are invited to experience it.

As a film itself I enjoyed it but most of the shocks would’ve been more effective if experienced live in the theater as an one act play. But after it finished, I couldn’t help a nagging feeling that it reminded me of an older movie. Then it hit me – several of the themes are present in the classic film THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932). Directed by James Whale, HOUSE shares many of the same artisans that made the early FRANKENSTEIN movies including the director. cinematographer, and many of the actors (Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger).

HOUSE starts with a massive storm that forces travelers to take shelter inside an old decaying mansion in the middle of nowhere. There they meet the Femm family who are eccentric, unbalanced misanthropes – some crazier than others.

Ernest Thesiger

They reluctantly allow the passersby to stay but with warnings that they may be in danger from their brutish servant, Morgan, played by Karloff.

Boris Karloff
Both films share quite a bit in common: isolated settings, a meal, and end (SPOILER ALERT) with fires. All the while commenting on class structures – Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik (MENU) making snide remarks about the various guests, their elite status, and how service workers are treated by them. In HOUSE, Charles Laughton’s Sir William Porterhouse brings up money as a defining force that builds up lives and ruins them by obsession.

Ralph Fiennes, Charles Laughton
Laughton’s character as well as Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult in MENU, hire women as company – Lillian Bond and Ana Taylor-Joy respectively. Both women are rebellious and defend themselves against their adversaries the brutish Morgan (Karloff) and the sadistic Slowik (Fiennes).
Lillian Bond, Ana Taylor-Joy

Now I’m not implying that the producers of THE MENU were influenced by THE OLD DARK HOUSE but anyone that enjoyed the 2022 film would no doubt be entertained by the 1932 film. At a brief 71 minutes, the Universal classic is funny, creepy, and became the inspiration for a slew of haunted house films to follow creating a well-known genre of cinema. Seek it out!