Oh, Umberto Lenzi, where do I rank you? Well, you're definitely not in the top tier of Italian horror directors; you're no Bava (Mario, that is) or Argento, not even up there with Fulci. But on the other hand, you aren't scraping the bottom of the barrel like Mattei or Fragasso. You don't have the artistic chops of Michele Sovai, but that works for you since your films tend to remain focused and controlled, and don't have wildly shifting tones. You directed Cannibal Ferox and the hugely entertaining Nightmare City, both completely deserving of the praise they receive, and from what I understand you made some very good and effective Erourocrime/Poliziotteschi films during your career...

And then, in 1988, you went and made Ghosthouse.

Now I should say that I was really looking forward to watching this. After seeing a really frenetic (and bloody) trailer for it I thought I'd be in for another wild ride along the lines of Nightmare City. Instead, I got a confusing, dull mess that tries way too hard to be Fulci's House By The Cemetery (it even goes so far as to the same house for exterior shots) and fails at every attempt.

The first words that appear on screen should have let me know exactly what would follow: "FILMIRAGE Presents." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have entered the world of another late 80s Joe D'Amato production, the same mind who brought us Troll 2 and so many other absolute wastes of celluloid of the era. The next word we see is "GHOSTHOUSE" and here I should discuss the alternate title of the movie "La Casa 3." You see, over in Italy Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series was known as "La Casa" and in the grand Italian tradition of naming completely unrelated movies as sequels to popular American films, they decided to dupe, apparently successfully, an unsuspecting public. And in case you were wondering, no, this movie has absolutely NOTHING in common with Evil Dead.

You know, the film actually starts off with some promise. Within the first five minutes we get some spooky haunted house goings-on and two grisly murders (three, if you include a cat). Admittedly, there are line readings by non-actors from a script that sounds like it was translated by Babelfish, but this is a Filmirage production after all.

So after a nice beginning we jump straight into the mire. We meet Paul and Martha, a guy who seems to make a living talking about dated pop cultural references on a HAM radio and his unintelligible German girlfriend. One night after their sweet, sweet lovin' they overhear a broadcast of what sounds like someone being killed and an eerie lullaby. Paul, the HAM radio expert he is, determines the transmission came from... um, they never actually say, but it's somewhere where they don't live, so they pack up the truck head out to investigate.

Along the way they pick up Pepe, a hitchhiker who randomly disappears and reappears during different points in the movie and proceeds to creep out or annoy every character he encounters. He's a pretty huge asshole and he is without a doubt the best character in the film. We are also introduced to the obligatory old, menacing caretaker who warns the kids to stay away from the haunted house, and as we see later when he starts sticking some of them with a pitchfork, he means it.

After finding the house (damn, that Paul is a HAM genius!) we meet the rest of the soon-to-be-dead cast: a fellow HAM enthusiast squatting in the house during a vacation with his brother, sister, and girlfriend. Or maybe it's his brother's girlfriend. Whatever. My attention was already waning at this point. I don't think the filmmakers even knew either . After the introductions, shit starts getting spooky (or a facsimile thereof).

And now we have the rest of the movie to get through. Okay, I just went outside for a cigarette and tried to think about that to write about all of this, and I got nothin'. I mean I did watch it, but 1. it was hard to pay attention through the boredom and creeping sense that I should be doing something better with my time like watching baby squirrels out my window, and 2. despite a couple of scenes towards the end, there really is nothing worth remembering, unless you count people walking around a house, going outside, being shrill, and then going back inside as memorable. We get the same haunted house special effects and "scary" lullaby repeated ad nauseum, a ghost of a little girl and her creepy clown doll orchestrating the deaths of the saps in the house, the lumbering caretaker attacking the leftovers (and later a funeral director for no apparent reason), one scene that manages to simultaneously rip off two scenes from Poltergeist (now that's economical), some sort of hooded zombie with a knife wandering around, Paul going through the motions of an investigation into the history of the house, and a sheriff telling him not to be digging too deeply. Meanwhile, everyone just hangs around in the house or outside in a camper, apparently not too upset about their friends and relatives being murdered around them or worried over their own safety. Some lines are thrown around like "Hey, the house is evil, maybe we should leave," but I don't know, maybe they had a big lunch and were feeling sleepy because absolutely no attempts to get out were made.

The whole premise is quite unclear... is the house cursed? Why is the ghost girl wanting people dead? Is it the doll doing everything? Wait, the doll is a ghost, too. How can there be a ghost doll? Is there a curse on the doll? Or on the ghost of the doll? Why does the caretaker want in on the action? And where the fuck did Mr. Stabby The Zombie come from? Is he the one who installed the pool of milk and/or acid under the floorboards at the end?

And I think that's the primary reason the movie completely fails. Not that the script or story was that hot to begin with, but Lenzi is unable to figure out if he wants his film to be a haunted house story, supernatural horror, or a slasher. As a result, the whole thing falls on its face. Well, it might be more accurate to say it wanders around, trips and skins it's knee, then gets up and wanders around some more. At least Fulci can overcome "what-the-fuck" confusion with a healthy dose of surrealism and he managed to pull off a similar mix of exploitation genres in House By The Cemetery. Lenzi, on the other hand, works best when his story is simple, direct, and quickly paced. And that's not what we get here...

It's funny, when I was getting underway to do some reviews I was really eager to see this movie and a bit more "meh" about my next one, Al Adamson's Blood of Dracula's Castle. Turns out I was completely wrong about both. While Ghosthouse turned out to be a real disappointment, Adamson's film was a hell of a lot of dumb fun from start to finish. Ghosthouse was certainly dumb, but all the fun was gone after the first five minutes... And this is where it gets weird watching "bad" movies. Is Ghoshouse bad? Oh yes, certainly. But it's competently shot and edited, competently directed even, insomuch as the limitations of the talent of the actors and the language barrier of an Italian crew allow it to be. It doesn't have the fascinating, almost hypnotic "badness" of something so inept and misguided of say, Manos or Night Train to Mundo Fine, it's not as crazy and outrageous as Mad Foxes or Virus, and there's not enough in the way of gore or sleaze like Burial Ground to make it worth watching, let alone to recommend. It exists in the grey, nebulous area of just "boring bad," and I try to stay away from those...

So yeah, just go watch Lenzi's Nightmare City instead. Seriously, running zombies with guns and knives killing disco dancers. It's the stuff of exploitation dreams...

1 comment:

carriembecker said...

Maybe someone will read your blog and offer you a job writing movie reviews! You are nothing if not colorful.