I used to take people to task when they said that, being fond of a particular film, they would not watch some other version of the same source material?but, while I am a fan of Hammer Horror and (to a lesser extent) genre exponent William Castle, I have to admit to being guilty of this fault (or, if you like, bias) myself when it came to my all-time favorite movie – James Whale's similarly-titled 1932 adaptation for Universal of J.B. Priestley's "Benighted"! For this reason, I have postponed viewing the by-all-accounts "best forgotten" remake (Castle apparently did, because he fails to mention it in his memoirs...and, apparently, Boris Karloff declined to participate in it for being overly jokey!) for the longest time but, in view of my ongoing Whale marathon, I thought it was high time I got around to it! By the way, though I recall coming across a copy of the novel as a kid (that is, long before I watched the original film), I have been searching high and low ever since catching up with it – given that I was intrigued enough by the back-story to wish to concoct a veritable prequel!
According to "The Leslie Halliwell Film Guide", the Whale picture had adhered fairly closely to the text albeit "omitting the more thoughtful moments"; the Hammer version, then, is nothing like Whale's but it does include a nice 'exclusive' subplot involving one character's attempt to reproduce Noah's Ark! In most other respects, however, the film is a dismal failure (a pitifully poor sequence supposedly depicting a hyena attack must be seen to be disbelieved!): comedy does not suit Castle (despite his tendency towards Camp), much less Hammer (their recognizable style only coming through here in the overall look, aided by Charles Addams' evocative animated title sequence; the latter is said to owe his choice of career to a viewing of Whale's original!) and the end result barely raises a chuckle – with none of the subtle wit that so characterized the classic original! One grave mistake is the fact that only a single interloper is made to contend with the family of eccentrics, and resistible American comic Tom Poston at that; for the record, he had already collaborated with the director on the previous year's ZOTZ! (which I also own but have yet to check out).
The Femms, on the other hand, are incarnated by a promising gallery of actors but to little effect: Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, Janette Scott, Fenella Fielding (who would play a similar role in CARRY ON SCREAMING ), Peter Bull, Mervyn Johns and Danny Green; incidentally, Fielding and Bull would later appear together again in the period romp, LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS! (1969) – which I have just acquired. The Whale film had no young women, crazy or otherwise, within the household but there were indeed 2 among the stranded travelers. Whereas Morley is supposed to replace Elspeth (billed as John!) Dudgeon, Grenfell stands in for Eva Moore, Bull has a dual role (which, again, is a new addition) while Johns more or less emulates Brember Wills (since he is perhaps the looniest – that said, his murderous inclinations are transferred onto one of the ladies, which is an agreeable novelty in itself!) and Green doubles for Karloff's giant mute butler (though, in this case, his dumbness is merely a ruse!).
Even if the original was relatively uneventful (a criticism leveled at it by hardened horror-movie buffs not satiated by its inherent stylized quirkiness), this one takes the form of an Agatha Christie whodunnit, with characters being eliminated one by one (among the murder methods are having water replaced by acid and, most ingeniously, a shotgun going off 'accidentally') over an inheritance – even Poston is linked with (and suspected of) this, which detaches it all the more from Whale's infinitely superior rendition! As if to emphasize this shift from Gothic horror to murder mystery, Hammer released the film theatrically in black-and-white (as per their current standard for thrillers) despite having shot it in color?with the latter prints only cropping up as TV screenings (which is how I came across my copy) and, fairly recently, DVD!