Thursday, October 13, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 8: The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

I could really end this review in one paragraph, or even one sentence. I could tell you, dear reader, exactly what I thought of this dreadful mess and move on with my life. Maybe I could watch a movie I actually like, or take up a new hobby.

However, if I were to do that it would mean that I pissed 90 minutes of my life down the drain. It would also mean I very nearly poisoned my relationship with my girlfriend, whom I owe endless apologies to for unwittingly forcing her to endure this with me, for absolutely nothing.

Hell, even my Blu-ray player suddenly decided it had had enough and refused to continue to play the completely unblemished, brand new disc with only ten minutes left. Luckily--or unluckily--it deigned to play the included DVD instead so I was not left under the misconception that the film actually managed to do something good in those last few minutes.

I really should have expected what I got, however. When I read El Santo's review, he compared it to Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, which is a film that I like a lot while most everyone else I know wouldn't piss on it if it was on fire. The reason most people don't care for said film is because it involves spending a long time with a bunch of obnoxious assholes until finally zombies rise up to kill them. I happen to find the particular assholes in that film fascinating, so I find it entertaining even before the zombies show up.

Well, The House of Seven Corpses is also a film where a bunch of assholes burn up screentime until a zombie rises up to kill them. The key difference is that these assholes are boring.

We begin at the old Beal Mansion (actually the Utah Governor's Mansion), and the opening credits rapidly introduce us to the seven corpses. As will later be explained to us, over many decades members of the Beal family have died in the house under a variety of circumstances--falling from the balcony, drowning in their bathtub, being shot, being stabbed, bludgeoned to death, and so forth. We join the last of the Beal family (Faith Domergue) as she is using a salt circle and incantations to summon forth something dark. Whether the Beal line has always been into the occult or developed an interest after all the dying is not clarified for us.

At any rate, she is oddly dismayed when footage of a zombie's face (Wells Bond) appears in the circle. She tries to stomp on it and curse at it, and she tells it that it shall never claim her. No, this won't ever actually make sense so get used to that.

In desperation, the GOP raised Zombie Ronald Reagan to be its 2020 candidate.
Well, the zombie vanishes, which is apparently bad news. The woman grabs her revolver, and as a shadowy figure shambles toward her, she prepares to shoot herself in the head...

...only for Eric Price (John Carradine!) to loudly object that that isn't how it happened. Price is the caretaker of the Beal Mansion and has just interrupted fading actress Gayle Dorian in the midst of a dramatization of the last Beal death for a low-budget horror film based on the mansion's legacy. The director, Eric Hartman (John Ireland), is furious at Price for interrupting, but the old man is very protective of the Beal legacy. He insists on taking Hartman, Gayle, and Gayle's costars Christopher Millan (Charles Macauly, last seen her as the Dracula who created Blacula) and Anne (Carole Wells) on a tour of the place to recap the fates of every member of the Beal family.

The tour also allows screenwriter and assistant director, David (Jerry Strickler), to discover a shelf full of books that belonged to the dear departed Beals. Seeing "genuine" black magic texts, particularly one labeled "Tibetan Book of The Dead" gets him thinking that they're exactly what the film needs as props. Meanwhile, Gayle walks back into the room they had been filming, carrying her cat, Cleon, in her arms. On the wall is a painting of a severed cat's head impaled on a trident.

Gayle observes to Christopher that it felt like the painting was watching her during the scene. Cleon makes eye contact with the cat painting and promptly slashes Christopher's hand with his claws. Christopher slaps the cat out of Gayle's arms in retaliation and the two nearly come to blows before Hartman steps in and uses the full power of his assholishness to stop their bickering,

The inevitable backlash when the internet finally got sick of cat memes was swift and brutal.
At any rate, it quickly becomes clear that David and Anne are in the early stages of a relationship, and Hartman and Gayle have been an on-again off-again item for many years. Gayle and Christopher are old acquaintances as well, and Gayle has long been sick of his chronic boozing getting in the way of his work.

So this delightful mix of toxic relationships has oddly decided that, after shooting is done for the day, they should be spending the night in the allegedly haunted location where the actual murders they are recreating took place. This seems a poor idea even if you don't live in a universe where black magic is real.

Well, in their room David proceeds to freak Anne out by fooling with the grimoire. Anne is, naturally, one of those women in movies who intuits that the juju is very real and very bad. I'm particularly fond of her objection that the book seems new or modern. I guess because a modern tome of dark magic is more frightening than an ancient one? That's a new one on me.

"I'm drawing a fucking line in the sand, here, David: do not download the Kindle edition!"
Anne freaks out even more when she looks out their bedroom window and sees Price wandering in the graveyard in what is clearly broad daylight despite it being established as full dark in a previous shot. David interprets it as nothing unusual, until Price opens a trapdoor in one of the graves and vanishes into it.

The couple, going to investigate, run into Hartman, who claims that he had enlisted Price to help him with some moonlight shots of the graveyard. However, he doesn't know what they're talking about when they mention the old man disappearing into a grave.

Meanwhile, Cleon runs off and while searching for him in her robe, Gayle runs into the drunk Christopher. Christopher stops reciting Shakespeare long enough to try and grope Gayle, before Hartman appears and intervenes. Hartman, being a dick, blames Gayle for almost being attacked by the drunken lout. He also dismisses her concern for Cleon and then softens briefly to invite her up to bed.

I'm going to spare you at this point because fucking hell, nothing of import happens for the rest of the first hour of screentime. We watch the characters make their movie within a movie--which involves rather more stabbing scenes than our earlier summary of the Beal history led me to expect, when it is possible to even follow the apparent plot of their movie.

Things start to take a turn for the slightly less repetitive when one take is interrupted by Gayle finding half of Cleon's bisected body--which may be the worst fake dead cat I've seen--next to a chunk of dislodged gravestone. It points to a ritual slaughter instead of an animal attack.

Hartman decides Price is to blame and seeks out the caretaker, eventually finding that the old man has a secret elevator that connects to a lot of secret passages in the mansion. Price knows nothing about the dead cat, but he warns Hartman that his crew needs to give up and go home because they may have awakened something dangerous. When Hartman mentions the chunk of gravestone, Price gets even more agitated--Price explains that there are eight graves out there, and he has no damn clue who is even in the last one.

Hartman shrugs that off and leaves Price in his attic workshop, where the old man is carving "Cleon" on a gravemarker. Given that he is working on the "N", it sure seems he had this in the works before the cat turned up dead.

At any rate, the filmmakers are wrapping up their last night of shooting in the house with a scene where Gayle brings the corpse of Christopher back to life so he can promptly murder her and Anne. The film's most clever moment comes when Hartman angrily calls cut because they forgot to light the ritual black candles before rolling. And, finally, Gayle's recitation from the grimoire gets the attention of the eighth grave's tenant. Sensing something, Price goes wandering in the graveyard and decides to take a good look at the grave stone right next to the zombie arm clawing its way out of the ground.

Price is unable to escape when the zombie grabs his leg, and then pulls itself out of the ground to strangle him to death.

Honestly, at this point in Carradine's career this is basically a zombie vs. zombie fight.
You might think this was leading up to the seven other corpses rising, but you would be wrong. You might think it was leading up to the zombie massacring the cast, but that would require the film to have forward momentum.

Instead, Hartman insists they will all spend the night so he can go out and get some pick-up footage with David and then they'll leave in the morning. So Gayle heads to her bedroom to sleep, Anne goes to shower off the fake blood from her death scene, and Christopher goes to clean the zombie make-up off his face while the interchangeable trio of crew members load up the equipment downstairs.

So while David and Hartman wander through the woods in broad daylight, somehow missing the zombie leisurely staggering back the other way, one crewman goes out to the truck in full darkness. The zombie appears then, slowly, and eventually kills him. Inside the mansion we get repeated ineffective false scares of ominous shadows turning out to be other people--made even less effective by the fact that they start off being intercut with the shots of the zombie clearly wandering around the woods outside--until finally the beast looms up in front of the two remaining crewmembers and kills them because they just stand and stare at it until it's too late.

Gayle decides to go looking for Hartman after hearing someone on the stairs, hoping for a little romance, only to encounter the zombie approaching her. She screams and flees back to her room, recovering the real revolver that Hartman had earlier found in Price's office. Christopher, hearing her scream, decides to halfheartedly investigate, since he assumes Gayle just found the rest of her cat. Unfortunately for him, Gayle assumes his shadow is the zombie and shoots at him as soon as he comes into view.

Of course, she should have been able to tell who it was after the first few shots but when he doesn't die right away she empties the gun into him until he falls over the balcony. When she sees for certain that she just killed Christopher, she backs away in horror--and the zombie helpfully looms out of the shadows behind her and backs up as she does, until they disappear into a side room. Anne, having heard the shots, decides to do what anyone would do in the situation--she goes investigating in nothing but a towel.

To be fair, that shade of green would probably repulse the zombie.
This is a PG movie from 1974, so it's a 50/50 shot on whether that towel ends up falling off. Unfortunately, this movie refuses to do anything remotely exciting so that towel stays put even when Anne opens a door and sees Gayle's dead body hanging from a noose and...faints? Dies of fright? Takes a nap?

In the graveyard, which is still broad daylight, Hartman films while David shines a flashlight over the gravestones--and then they "illuminate" the body of Price. They confirm that Price is dead, and then notice the empty grave and...

*sigh* This is where the film just gives right the fuck up.

David tries to shove Hartman into the open grave. Hartman keeps his feet and the two struggle, eventually resulting in David flipping into the open grave. Hartman then notices there is grave marker under the dirt--a gravemarker that reads "David Beal" and lists his life as ending in the 1800s. Hartman is still processing this when the zombie rises out of the open grave (?!) to attack him. Hartman flees his slow-moving, undead assailant and still maintains his lead despite briefly knocking himself out when he falls and hits his head on Cleon's gravestone outside the mansion.

Inside the mansion, Hartman finds all the bodies of his crew and, to his far greater horror, the smashed camera and wrecked film. Tearing at the ruined film in grief and wailing at the heavens, he doesn't see the zombie on the balcony as it lifts a film box above its head and then throws it down at Hartman...

If only he could have gotten to the director of the actual film.
Wandering the grounds outside the mansion, now at full dark again because this film wouldn't know visual consistency if it climbed out of a grave and bit it in the ass, the zombie crosses a small bridge over a creek. In the creek, Anne's dead body is floating. How did she get there? Fuck you, that's how.

The film ends with the zombie carrying Anne's "naked" corpse (she is plainly wearing underwear) back to its grave. It climbs into the grave as the credits roll and mercifully release us from this tedious hell.

Carrying a limp woman around is part of the monster union dues.
In case I haven't made my position clear by now, this movie is bad, folks.

I've lost track of how many times I've seen it said, but it's simply because it's true: the absolute worst thing that a movie can be is boring. Even the most painfully bad or inept movie can still have some redeeming qualities, but a movie that bores you? There's almost never any positive qualities to be gleaned from watching it.

The House of Seven Corpses is boring. Initially there is some fascination with watching a low budget movie about making a low budget movie, but when every scene progresses along the same exact lines that novelty fades quickly. And every scene of the characters filming is the same: Hartman is a jerk, Anne is inexperienced, and then someone gets fake stabbed. If any of the characters were engaging that might redeem it, but Gayle and Price come the closest to actually being interesting and they're both given too little to do.

Worse, when the zombie finally shows up to go on its killing spree the filmmakers manage to deliver a really accomplished grave-rising sequence and a decent zombie costume, only to then make even the zombie boring. Worse, the big reveal makes no sense: is the film trying to say that David was the zombie all along, even though he would then have had to be in multiple places at once and somehow be able to not appear as a rotting corpse? Is the zombie, which is inferred to be responsible for the seven deaths, some kind of possessing spirit? If so, why did it need to raise its body from the dead to kill the filmmakers instead of just using David?

Even thinking back on the film's early scenes, I can see clues to this idiotic reveal but they don't actually make sense. For instance, David is revealed to be the one who found the Beal Mansion for Hartman and at one point Hartman is surprised by David knowing part of the house's history, which David writes off as something he learned when finding the place. But that doesn't make the reveal any less nonsensical.

Though I honestly prefer the nonsense that ends the film to the boredom that permeates it in all other facets. The film's direction is flat, it never generates even an approximation of suspense or urgency, and even the music is obviously borrowed from other sources and wedged in haphazardly.

Even if you're a zombie completist--and I shudder to think of the pain you must have experienced if you are such a one--or a huge John Carradine fan, this film is still not worth your time. There are so many better ways to spend 90 minutes. Like going to the dentist.

At least Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things has the decency to include Alan Ormsby's eye-searing pants.

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1 comment:

  1. Mostly off-topic, I think Lance Henricksen has firmly established himself as John Carradine's successor. He has bit parts in a truly astounding number of bad horror / fantasy / scifi movies, including the amazingly titled "Garm Wars: The Last Druid."

    Although I am looking forward to "Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen", with Tim Thomerson hunting down Henricksen to find out his screen success.