|Review||The Haunted House of Horror (1969)||Director||Michael Armstrong|
|Writer||Michael Armstrong (screenplay) and Gerry Levy (additional material)|
|Cast||Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Mark Wynter, Gina Warwick, Richard O’Sullivan, Carol Dilworth, Julian Barnes, Veronica Doran, Robin Stewart, George Sewell and Dennis Price|
“I am bored. Just wish something would happen” – Sheila
The back of the Blu-ray edition has this as a synopsis: “This Tigon British classic sees a group of jaded youth, from swinging sixties London dare each other to go to a deserted mansion, that once saw a mad man slice up his whole family. Once there the group are picked off one by one and, in a twisted turn of events, the remaining survivors must figure out who is behind these brutal killings before it’s too late”. That’s not the most accurate description for “The Haunted House of Horror”; indeed a classic British horror film not necessarily in terms of quality but rather as a fun time capsule of an era long gone and a mood that was only attainable for a short period of time.
Said youths consist of Chris (Avalon) and his girlfriend Sheila (Haworth), Gary (Wynter) and his date Dorothy (Dilworth), Sylvia (Warwick) who’s sort of Gary’s ex, couples Peter (O’Sullivan) and Madge (Doran) and finally stand-alones Richard (Barnes) and Henry (Stewart). The group decides to visit a supposedly haunted house to liven things up a bit. When one of the gang is brutally murdered by an unseen assailant panic ensues among the group. Chris declares that it’s most likely that one of them is the murderer and suggests they hide the body and figure out among themselves what would be the best next move. Subsequently an Inspector (Price) goes investigating a missing person and add into the mix a jealous ex (Sewell) of Sylvia who gets tangled up in the mystery. Still no closer to discovering who’s the guilty party the group returns to the house once more.
A feature length documentary and a booklet accompanying the Blu-ray release stress the point excessively that “The Haunted House of Horror” was not the picture that writer and director Michael Armstrong had in mind. Interference from studio execs and extra footage shot by another director (Levy) created a hybrid out of Armstrong’s original script titled “The Dark” which he was not pleased with. The visual flow of the film isn’t severely compromised although it’s easy to spot a few instances in the beginning that are clearly the work of two contrasting directors. There are some fairly big holes in the plot; namely how on earth the group comes to the conclusion that hiding the body is the best way to go and secondly what they could possibly gain by going back to the house near the end. I haven’t gone through the commentary on this release so I don’t have a blow by blow account of what was Armstrong’s intention but, remarkably enough, “The Haunted House of Horror” does fly by pretty pleasantly.
The core idea isn’t bad although narratively speaking this isn’t a very logical film. Supposedly haunted houses are always ripe for something horrific to occur and (a very young at the time; 24 years old) director Armstrong creates a suitably eerie mood once inside the place and stages one heck of a set piece when a member of the group is viciously murdered. It’s a very nasty and bloody scene and a case could be made that it’s a bit of a precursor to future slasher films which were on the horizon but still a few years away. It’s also quite stylish with memorable imagery. The mystery angle which follows is never very gripping and, according to Armstrong, contains some added material which he didn’t intend for. The biggest change here is apparently the inclusion of a married man who’s been having an affair with Sylvia and won’t let her go despite her dumping him. While his narrative function sets up an extra kill scene, a bigger part for Warwick and doesn’t contain any plot holes per se it does look and feel like filler material. But at least Sewell is a quality actor and Warwick gets some extra scenes. In fact most of the actors here are pretty decent. Avalon leads the pack as the fairly unlikable Chris and the crooner puts in a good performance. Wynter is very appealing as Gary and Haworth and Dilworth come off well also.
The final revelation is a bit out there (again according to Armstrong something that was severely altered) but the final showdown is memorably staged with intense, and bloody, scenes that make sure the film ends on a high. I’m inclined to believe Armstrong when he says that his cut was edgier but the resultant hybrid that is “The Haunted House of Horror” contains enough to recommend it to cult enthusiasts if no one else. The late sixties mood, lingo and fashions are really attractively displayed here and create a feel that’s most enjoyable to watch. The soundtrack isn’t bad either. Add to the mix a murder mystery with a creepy atmosphere and memorable kill scenes and you’ve got something that’s well worth your time.