One of my favorite movies is Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator“, the biopic of a dashing, young Howard Hughes as he revolutionizes air travel and conquers Hollywood. Those familiar with the film may recall a scene where a young (underaged) starlet is interviewed and seduced by Hughes only to later freak out over his infidelities. That actress was Faith Domergue, who starred in films like Hughes’ “Vendetta“, “It Came From Beneath the Sea” and the MST3K favorite “This Island Earth“. From the mid-50′s into the 60′s, she worked mostly in TV, but briefly returned to films before ending her career with the schlock horror “The House Of Seven Corpses“, available 8/13 on Blu-Ray and DVD from Severin Films. While this “last hurrah” might be what the film is best known for, the truth is: if you’re looking to turn your living room into a drive-in theater for the night, this is the disc to do it with.
The setting is a creepy old mansion with a past. A film crew arrives to make a horror movie on the premises, looking to exploit the mysterious deaths of the home’s former owners. An eerie old caretaker (John Carradine) walks the grounds, warning the crew to leave well enough alone – those deaths were occult related and it’s just best to let sleeping dogs (among other things) lie. Well, anybody who’s worked on a film set, particularly a low-budget one, knows that the crew will ignore everything and storm through with reckless abandon… it never ends well. When a copy of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is found, director Eric Hartman (John Ireland) decides its passages sound better than the garbage in the script and the satanic verses are incorporated into the picture. If you can’t guess where things go from there, the dead rise again and begin to hunt our cast of characters which include: the Shakespearean thesp (Charles Macaulay), the aging leading lady (Domergue), the sexy, young scream queen (Carole Wells) and her co-star/boyfriend (Jerry Strickler) along with the director and the rest of his crew. Let the fun begin!
The fun of “The House Of Seven Corpses” is watching the film’s crew make a low budget horror with real equipment and cheesy production values. The campiness is often thrown out there as a wink to the audience, from the red paint blood used on set to the over-the-top acting that’s toned down as soon as Hartman yells “cut!”. It’s like if Hammer had made a “Scream” movie. As a matter of fact, a lot of this movie screams Hammer, from the film in the film’s costuming and set design, to the atmosphere and building of suspense. Bodies don’t really start piling up until the last third of the movie, but you know something’s going to happen so there’s a good amount of tension that’s maintained throughout.
The only feature from Director Paul Harrison (who wrote for “H.R. Pufnstuf“, of all things), was ahead of its time debuting about 4 years before “modern” American slasher films took pop culture by storm. The acting and directing is far better than expected in spite of being made on the cheap. Academy Award nominee John Ireland chews up the scenery as the hot tempered director who’s begging for his comeuppance, while screen veteran David Carradine (a man who’s done everything from Shakespeare to “Starsky & Hutch“) shows everyone up as spooky, old Edgar, the groundskeeper. While she was just about done with acting, Faith Domergue was certainly no stranger to the screen and at 50, was as beautiful as her 32 year old co-star Carole Wells, who’d been acting since she was 12. Unlike modern low-budget films that use the freshest face from the CW network, these were people who could act and as such, “The House Of Seven Corpses” comes off as a higher quality piece than most other “midnite” movies. It looks like it cost more than their $100,000 budget, anyway.
Severin Films did a fine job with the Blu-Ray. The video quality has some pops and scratches, but if you watch the included theatrical trailer, you can truly see how much the picture has been cleaned up. There’s a fair amount of film grain and you really get the feeling of watching this thing at a drive-in movie. There are spots where the color is faded down a little in the beginning, but for the most part everything is vibrant and rich. The sound is presented only in mono, but as is often the case with older low budget films, that adds to the experience. I feel that if Severin had remastered the soundtrack into stereo, it would have been throwing money away; it would’ve been too flashy. The extras are a bit skimpy on this title, with only the aforementioned theatrical trailer, a commentary track with Associate Producer Gary Kent and Alamo Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen and a nearly 30 minute interview with David Carradine. While the commentary is informative, it’s worth the listen just to hear Gary Kent’s stories of on and off-set hijinx from this and other films. Carradine’s interview, filmed in 1983, is a bit long-winded as the actor seems to be both proud and dismissive of his work in the horror genre. If you consider it an extra, there is a DVD disc included with the Blu-Ray.
“The House Of Seven Corpses” earns 2.5 out of 4 devils. The ending is a bit odd, but the film is enjoyable throughout and loaded with 70′s style. The acting is good, the effects are cheesy and the mood is creepy. If you’re looking for a revival movie house experience from the comfort of your own home, grab a date, pop some corn and curl up for some retro-horror fun.