Thursday, April 21, 2011

House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

Directed by Kevin Conner
Starring Edward Albert, Susan George, Doug McClure
Rated R

"There's an awful face in my soup!"

The sick, sick 70's spewed up a steaming gutpile of genuinely frightening haunted house flicks, from Amityville Horror (1979) to the jarring Burnt Offerings (1976). While House Where Evil Dwells gamely attempts a similar sense of atmospheric dread, this early 80's culture-clash spooker - a sort of proto-Grudge - fails to dredge up any scares. In fact, it's one of the silliest horror flicks of the 80's, and that's saying something. Directed by Motel Hell mastermind Kevin Conner, House takes a seriously dumb premise and plays it so straight that it's a miracle the actors got through it without bursting into fits of laughter with every take.

In the super slo-mo prologue - set a hundred years or so prior to the main events - a samurai warrior comes home to find his wife banging his buddy. Naturally, he goes berserk, lopping off heads and arms in a frenzy of blood and gore, before committing harikari. Done. Roll credits.

Fast-forward to the present. As "present" as 1982 ever got, anyway. Ted Fletcher (Edward Albert), a porn-mustachioed journalist of some stripe, is taking his family on an extended trip to Japan to work on a "story". His job and his work is never clearly explained, but it involves wearing headbands and carrying a camera around. Anyway, said family consists of wife Laura (dentally-challenged 70's scream queen Susan George) and mousy daughter (Amy Barrett, last seen getting menaced by fishmen in Humanoids from the Deep).

They are met at the airport by Ted's best-bud Alex (lantern-jawed Doug McClure, also from Humanoids. Also RIP), who has set them up with a house nestled in a hillside. It's got a garden and all the modern conveniences, and it's only $250 American a month! Wow, what a deal! There's only one hitch: it's haunted. That's right, he rented them the killer samurai's joint.

Of course, being forward-thinking westerners, the Fletchers laugh off the notion of ghosts and move in to their sweet new digs. Guess what? Weird shit starts happening almost immediately. During a celebratory toast, Alex's shot of Saki flips over right in front of his eyes. Later that night, Laura switches on a light, and it repeatedly switches itself back off. Still, could be wind and faulty wiring, right? Of course, the audience knows differently, because we can actually see the kimono-sporting, ashen-faced spooks wandering around the joint, upending the furniture. This risible "special effect" looks exactly like all the 'hauntings' in Scooby Doo, and undercuts any sense of anxiety the film was hoping to muster. If there was ever a textbook case of "unintentional humor", these fuckin' ghosts are it.

Ignoring the bumps in the night, Ted and Laura christen the joint by doing a little bumping-in-the-night of their own in a dimly-lit, agonizingly prolonged softcore fuck scene. I didn't know it was possible to get bored by Susan George's boobs until I saw this movie.

The next morning, the local exorcist - he lives right up the road, very convenient - drops by to tell Ted his house is cursed. Ted tells him to beat it. The exorcist laughs at the foolish American, telling him to drop by when things get crazy. I get the feeling we'll be seeing him again.

So, Ted has some business meetings. I don't know why, sense he's supposed to be a journalist, but he does. One of 'em's held at a sushi bar, and he ends up dancing and making out with a Japanese woman who bears a striking resemblance to the ghost in his house. Also, Laura starts having an affair with Alex, essentially repeating the same mistakes that got the original occupants of the house murdered. So that's not good.

There's also a scene where the ghost shows up as a topless pearl diver (? Something like that) and tries to drown Ted while he's shooting photos of other (non-topless) pearl divers.

Oh, and what about little Amy? Well, at one point, one of the ghosts invades her cup of soup, and when she refuses to eat it, dad pours the hot spectral goo right down her throat. If that's not bad enough, one evening while she's being watched by her tutor, the house is attacked by a pair of angry crabs (they chatter away like grumpy Japanese businessmen!) who eventually chase her up a tree. True story.

Eventually, Ted figures out that the legend may actually be true, and pays a visit to the exorcist. He drops by the house and says a few magic words, which chases the ghosts out the door. And then he tells them not to let anybody in. These, apparently, are the kind of ghosts you can actually lock out of the house.

Unfortunately, Alex stops by to have a fistfight with Ted over Laura, which lets the ghosts back in. And then the craziness really begins. I will not spoil the blood-caked finale for you, but I will say this: there's an awesome dummy-head-on-a-string decapitation to look forward to.

House Where Evil Dwells is as goofy as it gets, so if you're looking for chills and thrills, you'll definitely be disappointed. But if you're in the mood for a delightfully cheeseball b-flick, then you'll want to give this one a spin. Hardcore Susan George fans (like me!) will find all of her signature moves here: scowling, grousing, pouting, awkward 'love-making', throwing things in fits of anger.

She also sports lots of ill-fitting designer jeans and flashes those crazy Chiclet teeth a lot. There's some awesome HG Lewis-esque gore thrown in there too, and Albert's mustache is so fuckin' sleazy looking that it's honestly the scariest part of the entire film.

The more I think about this one, the more I like it. I just think the title is a little misleading. How about House Where Nonsense Dwells?

- Ken McIntyre 

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