"A New High In Terror and Shock!"
Made on the downside of the trend of casting actresses from Hollywood's golden age in horror and/or exploitative films that had started with Robert Aldrich's WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE in 1962 (and seemingly had breathed its last with A.I.P's WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN in 1971) this sometimes lurid/sometimes gory entry was the only film directed by editor and sound technician Donald Wolfe (THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS 1965) it sat on the shelf upon completion in 1970 (with possible some additional filming over the course of the next few years) wherein 1974 it was finally released by Joseph Brenner Associates under the title SAVAGE INTRUDER (also the title on the Unicorn Video release in the '80s) where its psychedelic trappings must have seemed even more dated. In addition, star Miriam Hopkins had passed away in 1972 which must have added to the befuddlement of theatergoers.
The film opens with a beautifully shot & evocative credit sequence of the then rusted and dilapidated Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee (where it is literally falling apart before the camera) before it pans down to a woman's mutilated corpse at its base. We next see various shots of old-time glamorous Hollywood (some of it cribbed from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN) and then cutting to a contemporary seedy Sunset Blvd. where an elderly woman is followed home and bloodily dispatched by a variety of sharp objects (including an electric knife). A televised news reports that there has been a series of brutal killings of women in the Hollywood area.
In her sprawling Hollywood Hills mansion (actually the Santa Monica home of silent screen actress Norma Talmadge) faded and reclusive screen star Katherine Packard (Miriam Hopkins DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE 1931) has fallen down the stairs in a drunken stupor and broken her leg. Her secretary Leslie (Gale Sondergaard THE SPIDER WOMAN 1943) decides to hire a live-in nurse and in a bit of happenstance, a Hollywood tour bus (driven by the least funny of The Three Stooges Joe Besser) stops in front of her house, and struggling actor Vic Valance (David Garfield and son of John Garfield) whose been hitching a ride on the rear bumper jumps off and marches up to the front door.
Introducing himself to the cook Mildred (busy character actor Florence Lake THE DAY OF THE LOCUST 1974) as "Laurel N. Hardy", he is mistaken as an applicant for the nurse job and after flim-flamming his way past Leslie, gets the job. The now wheelchair-bound Katherine quickly becomes fond of her new young companion and he soon seduces her along with the housekeeper Greta (Virginia Winters CHARLEY VARRICK) while Leslie & Mildred become increasingly suspicious of his behavior and closeness to Katherine. Periodically Vic has hallucinatory LSD-triggered flashbacks to his childhood as he watches his nymphomaniac mother being groped by a gaggle of men before he (or somebody?) chops off her hand with an ax and then a quick cut to ketchup gurgling out of a bottle. He also suffers from other LSD flashbacks that include quick-cut montages where among others Hitler and Alister Crowley can be glimpsed. Since there is no suspense on who the slasher is as seen in the opening sequence (the plot makes it in-your-face obvious) we are only left with the when & who in the Packard household are going to meet their end.
Hopkins who would sadly die of a heart attack in 1972 throws herself full-tilt into the proceedings whether gleefully screaming "vodka!" (which she insists on injecting directly into her veins) when asked what flavor of ice cream she wants, flashing a bare breast while getting a nude massage from Vic and in one particularly over-the-top-sequence participating in the Hollywood Christmas parade as she drunkenly shrieks "I'm the Queeeeen of the Christmas Paraaaaade!" while riding with Santa Claus. It would have been nice for Hopkins to go out on a higher note, however it cannot be said that she does not give her all here and her role may be a trainwreck, but it's an entertaining (and sometimes amazing in its bad taste) train wreck. There are a few sequences that hint at some evocative atmosphere including one room in Katherine's house that contains mannequins wearing costumes from her past roles.
One of the more under-appreciated golden age actresses, Sondergaard who specialized in cunning & sinister roles (she is especially good in the 1939 version of THE CAT AND THE CANARY and just missed out on the Wicked Witch role in THE WIZARD OF OZ) comes out the best of the leads as she gives a sympathetic performance as the caring secretary. Although he looks a great deal like his famous father (and in some instances sounds eerily just like him) Garfield lacks the charisma of his Dad, although some more focused direction might have helped his role (the same can be said for Hopkins). He would die at 51 of heart problems very similar to his father.
A sleazier take on SUNSET BLVD. tossed with a bit of such A.I.P. counter-culture films as ANGEL, ANGEL DOWN WE GO and mixed (very slightly) with some Euro "past family issues" Gothic horrors such as HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON, this is overdone camp on many levels, but it is entertaining as heck on that level. There's a couple of out-right lifts from SUNSET BLVD. including Katherine hosting a dinner party with some of her other old Hollywood cronies among them her former director (Lester Matthews THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON) who secretly loves her and Vic doing shopping for his new gigolo-financed clothes courtesy of his employer.
The opening credit sequence of the crumbling Hollywood sign with the wind blowing through it is the most atmospheric of the film and one wonders if perhaps this was done by the second unit director Don May as it is so unlike the rest of the film. The music is by Stu Phillips, who seemed to supply the music for exploitation film of the period and had just come off THE LOSERS, THE CURIOUS FEMALE, and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.
Previously only available on VHS sourced releases of dubious legality HOLLYWOOD HORROR HOUSE has been given a Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome in an eye-popping 4K transfer from the 35mm negative which brings out the colors and psychedelic Day-Glo color scheme in glorious retina-burning color. There is also a commentary track with David Decoteau and David Del Valle that is more entertaining than the film at certain points.