Review: Horror House (1969)

Studio tampering is a time (dis)honored tradition in the slasher genre. Horror House, A.K.A. The Haunted House of Horror, a forgotten little British chiller, is an early example of a studio destroying a film by radically changing storylines with unnecessary reshoots made without the director’s input. In 1969 director Michael Armstrong filmed The Dark, sold it to American International Pictures, and went off to direct his next film. When AIP got their hands on the film they hired new actors, shot new scenes that had nothing to do with the original story, and pretty much ruined what could’ve been an effective proto-slasher. AIP also gave the film a couple of different exploitive titles to appeal to the drive-in crowds.

Horror House, at it’s core, has a familiar plot slasher fans know very well. A bunch of swinging mods go to a party thrown by American Chris (Frankie Avalon a long way from the beach movies he made for AIP). The party sucks so it isn’t long before someone suggests they take the party to the old murder house out in the middle of the boonies. It’s known as the murder house because some wanker chopped up a family with a hatchet twenty-years ago. After a seance the gang splits up to explore the house and fall victim to a mysterious killer. And thanks to the reshoots, this is where the film suddenly changes from a slasher to a police procedural. The police and the survivors spend the rest of the film trying to figure out the killer’s identity.

The scenes in the old murder house are spooky and full of sinister atmosphere, yet all of that is lost when the stuffy police elements are introduced. Switching the focus away from the young cast to an old geezer Inspector (Dennis Price) robs the film of its energy and momentum. Rumor has it AIP wanted Boris Karloff to play the Inspector, he would’ve been better than the wooden Price, but the horror icon was too ill to take the part. Another bit of added storyline that doesn’t fit involves middle-age Bob (George Sewell) dating the much younger Sylvia (Gina Warwick). The viewer is supposed to think jealous Bob is a possible suspect, but he just comes across as a bitter old pervy who can’t stay away from young women. Bob’s big contribution to the film is trying to look menacing while standing behind a well lit tree. Frankie Avalon goes against his surfer hero stereotype with the character Chris, who acts like a jerk during most of the film. Jill Haworth plays the spoiled Sheila and seems just as rotten as Chris. Comic relief is provided by Veronica Doran and Richard O’Sullivan. Their characters are funny without becoming too annoying.

The most shocking element in Horror House is the brutality during the murders. Victims scream, moan, and roll around while getting slashed and stabbed by a really nasty looking weapon. There is no gore but the fx guy throws quite a bit of the red stuff at the cast during the murders. One cringe worthy death stands out from the others, but I don’t want to give away too much about that one. Let’s just say you’ll know which one I’m talking about if you watch the film. If I was to make a list of the most shocking deaths in slashers this particular scene would be near the top.

Horror House is a prime example of a studio tampering gone wrong. The core story, teens in a murder house stalked by a killer, is good. The creepy atmosphere adds a lot to certain scenes. But all of the good will built up between the film and audience is lost when the reshoot footage kicks in. The film becomes painfully boring, deadly dull, and unbelievably stuffy. One positive side effect of this footage is the brutality of the murders is greatly amplified. The first half and last few minutes of Horror House are really good, it’s just that middle part that drags the film down. Funniest credit in the film goes to Wigs and Hairpieces by The House of Carmen. AIP released Horror House in the States on a double bill with Boris Karloff’s The Crimson Cult.

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3 Responses to Review: Horror House (1969)

  1. Shane says:

    I saw this on a late night horror show 20 years ago. No wonder why the film has such a boring middle half! And your right, the murders were nasty. The only thing I hated was the last scene at the end.

  2. glenn says:

    Thanks Thomas.
    I always wondered what felt wrong bout this film. Personally. Y think Britain never took to slashers in a big way because it produced a lot of its psycho thrillers and proto slasers in the 60s and early 70s.

  3. Erick Hart says:

    The film is compromised by the studio tinkering but I still feel it has a lot to offer.The murders (commited with a Nepalese Kuhkri knife,nasty looking blade ! )ARE quite shocking and the first death scene was among the nastiest shown in a British film up to that time.The scenes at the haunted house have great atmosphere and even the opening credits are disturbing.Warts and all I think it’s an intriguing film and it would make a nice double bill with the underrated Brit proto slasher TOWER OF EVIL,a VERY violent but very atmospheric pic.

    HORROR HOUSE director Micheal Armstrong would later head to Germany and shoot the infamous (and very profitable) MARK OF THE DEVIL,a film famous at the time for issuing patrons with airline style “barf bags”,to prevent those with nervous stomach’s from ditying the theater (I guess drive-in’s didn’t care !).It was likely influenced by the Vincent Price hit THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUERER WORM).It predates the recent so called “torture porn” cycle by decades.

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