1973, US, Directed by Paul Harrison
Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Geneon; Image: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono
Not likely to be confused with Rob Zombie’s contemporary-but-retro violence-fest of similar name, this is a cumbersome early seventies zombie film that exhibits a certain level of TV style amateurishness in its execution. A small group of film-makers are shooting some sort of historical dramatisation in an old house where several homicides took place a century or so before. In his eternal quest for authenticity the director Eric Hartman picks up anything at hand to bring a touch of verisimilitude to his otherwise lacklustre production, and this includes getting the cast members to recite from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, a tome they fatefully discover lying around the premises. One of the overly enthusiastic actors takes great interest in the book and uses it for a little light bedtime reading, accidentally reciting a rite to raise the dead, which subsequently causes one of the ghouls buried in the graveyard outside to crawl out of his earthly resting place, make his way towards the house and cause bloody havoc.
Even at less than 90 minutes this film slithers along at a watch-watching pace. Primarily the problem stems from a plot that is too thin for feature length, but it’s not helped by a cast utterly lacking in compelling charisma, and Harrison’s mundane direction (it‘s no surprise this is the only feature he ever helmed). The story staggers from one hopelessly uninteresting scene to another, alternating between the persistently angry Hartman shooting his actors (usually one of them stabbing another), and the actors themselves expressing themselves to each other in embarrassing ways. There are attempts at humour but these are scripted by Harrison and Tom Kelly, who between them seem to have little sense of humour at all, the lines then being uttered by a Z grade cast just about burying any hope that the script might have had in its genesis. A similarly themed film from the same period is Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, and much more successful it is on many levels - viewers would be advised to seek out that one before scraping the bottom of the barrel to exhume this lifeless piece of celluloid. Sam Raimi would also take some of the ideas and do it properly a few years later. Of course, because House of Seven Corpses concentrates on the film within a film concept, it goes without saying that it begins with a mock piece where some woman is performing a black magic ritual only for us to be ‘surprised’ to find it’s all simply being staged for a camera. This is of course a cliché nowadays, but the fact that it’s dragged out to the 7 minute mark in an 88 minute film demonstrates that they were stretching everything out to pad this rotting fingernail. On the plus side, the ghoul that comes to life is quite funky looking but so slow moving that his victims have to clumsily knock themselves out to give him any hope of catching up with them. Therefore any suspense that could have been built up is not only lost through boredom, but is thoroughly banished by the inefficacy of the walking dead man. Had this been made by the Europeans it might have had some charm to see it through, but as it stands it’s mostly a waste of time. One more thing to mention, an elderly John Carradine is present for a few screen minutes to bring some metaphorical weight to the production - it doesn’t work, but if there are Carradine completists out there this film might have a molecular amount of value…
Having owned an old UK videocassette that originated from the eighties I sold it at a boot sale over 10 years ago. I wonder why - somehow I’d forgotten how boring the film was and later tracked down the Geneon DVD of the film, thinking it may hold something of interest to my more mature outlook. Of course I was mistaken, but at least the disc didn’t cost much. Arriving in a slimline amaray case this is a featureless disc with a rough but bearable 4:3 transfer that needs to be darkened by your AV equipment to hide most of its flaws. It’s also over saturated, however, definition is reasonable and it actually doesn‘t look that bad projected, admittedly following very low expectations. Despite the fact that this is a sub-ordinary DVD release it more than does this film justice… It was also released by Image (in the US) on DVD and VHS at the beginning of the century, something that’s long out of print and occasionally asking an unreasonably high price online - don’t be fooled!