Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES 1974



"Eight Graves! Seven Bodies! One Killer...And He's Already Dead"




      Released amid the 70's satanic horror boom and with such films as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT pushing the intensity level, 1974's THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN CORPSES must have seemed curiously out of place. Devoid of any bare skin and with just a few dollops of blood, its haunted house/family curse setting is almost quaint compared that that decade's other horrors. Because of its PG rating (and a really soft PG for the 70's), it was a favorite on afternoon/early evening broadcast TV and cable well into the 80's. I remember as a kid this running almost perpetually in the late afternoon movie..
     Featuring a typical John Carradine grouchy old man performance, some solid work by Hollywood "B" listers John Ireland (who would soon go on to SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS) & Faith Domergue (THIS ISLAND EARTH & former girlfriend of Howard Hughes) it's helped immensely by some great locations featuring the old Utah Governor's mansion. With its movie within a movie storyline there's kind of meta thing going on here as it's a modest budget horror film that rather appropriately has as its central plot a small group of filmmakers trying film a low budget horror movie.




     In the prologue we were shown the various past members of the Beal family and their grisly deaths which include shooting, stabbing, hanging & bludgeoning etc. with each member having a portrait hanging in their namesake house. We then see a satanic ritual being played out by Faith Domergue and upon pulling back we're shown a movie being made as curmudgeonly director Eric Hartman (John Ireland SALON KITTY) has arrived with a small crew & cast to film a horror movie at the Beal house. Grouchy old caretaker Edgar Price (John Carradine - in one of five films he appeared in this year) interrupts the shoot to tell the history of the house and its murders.
     Along with semi-has been actress Gayle Dorian (Domergue) and director Ireland, there's embittered ex - Shakespearean actor Christopher Milan (Charles Macaulay BLACULA), young actress Annie (Carole Wells THE LIVELY SET) and her boyfriend (& all-around lackey for Hartman) David (Jerry Strickler). After the opening credits parade of murder/bloodshed the film falls into the drama and arguments associated with films production as Eric yells at everybody and films sequences in single long takes (just like Hitchcock's ROPE it would seem).
    Things get a bit interesting when David handily finds a copy of a grimoire which here is The Tibetan Book of The Dead and some of the passages are incorporated into the movies script dealing with devil worship and the raising of the dead (which the actual book has nothing to do with).




     At times feeling like a NIGHT GALLERY episode stretched out to feature length, once the book is introduced into the plot the horror elements start to slowly (maybe a bit too slowly...) emerge. Gayle's cat is gruesomely killed and ol' Edgar (Carradine) begins slinking around in the background, even once climbing down into a crypt in the old Beal family graveyard and it's reveled that he has a workshop in the cellar (!?!). Although only in the movie to be the proverbial red herring Carradine does have a bit more screen time than expected and his appearances help keep the horror elements moving along and in the foreground. Gayle is also hotly eager to have a roll with her director, but he roughly casts her aside with a remark about her "past profession" and things don't move to far along and this is only instance where sex is even vaguely mentioned.
   With the graveyard, the book and the family history of the house, it's not too difficult to see where this is headed and at the climax things get a bit muddled (is there one or two zombies...?) and compresses an incredible amount of death into a short time. It takes it time getting there, but when it gets there it does pretty good. The zombie makeup is fairly effective in some shots (kept in the dark for the most part), a close-up of rotted toes wiggling in a ragged shoe and the resurrection scene in the graveyard has a nice atmosphere to it in spite of some iffy day for night shots.
     The director John Harrison was a TV director, and this was his lone big screen effort which explains the TV movie feel that drifts in every so often. The film was produced by an outfit called Television Corp. of America, which makes me wonder if this had its genesis as TV movie? The cinematographer Don Jones had a solid resume in 70's exploitation in various behind the camera jobs including directing SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS (1973), THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975), SWEATER GIRLS (1978) and the 1982 bizarre slasher THE FOREST.  It's unbelievable seeing Carradine in this and then realizing he's going to be acting for another 20 years!!













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