Monday, August 29, 2011

HOUSE OF DEATH (1982) - an underrated hack 'n' slasher, and the pride and joy of Shelby, NC

House of Death opens up with the truly classic “making out and getting hacked up in an isolated setting” scene, supplemented with the age old “full moon/pair of tits” montage. The bodies are dumped in a river, and this leads to a neat wraparound near the end of the movie, where a girl goes skinny dipping alone and gets her throat slit right after discovering the floating couple. Throughout the film, we cut back to the dead couple to check their progress down the river, perversely reprising the adventures of Tom and Huck. Most of the rest of the film is spent in the white bread, hometown-y goodness of Shelby, North Carolina, brought to life by our director, David Nelson (of Ozzie and Harriet fame). I guess he REALLY wanted to divorce himself from his greaseball brother.

Lily, our virginal heroine (needless to say, played by a thirty-year-old Playboy Playmate who did some porno on the side) and her group of friends go about their day before spending the night at the “old deserted house by the cemetery”. We get various vignettes involving the “teens” as they deal with “real life problems” and such in small town Americana. Luckily, the town fair is going on, so they get together to blow off some steam. You know, doing that strength test with the hammer - the kissing booth - that inflated room where you jump around like an ass - and, my personal favorite, sitting down on a potato sack and sliding down a long ramp at 80 miles an hour with nothing to prevent you from smashing into the person next to you.

Anyhow, in the middle of all this foolishness, the killer shoots a girl with an arrow, and she tries to escape by getting on a carousel horse. Yippee! The horsey will save me! Ehhh…not so much. The killer asphyxiates her with a plastic bag, ending, dare I say, an Argento-esque sequence. The killing of this extraneous character presumably exists to break up a long period of homicidal inactivity. Really, the movie is about the main characters, and how their idyllic small town summer day ends in a cavalcade of severed limbs. Halloween is more cinematic in this regard, whereas House of Death is more of the made for T.V., family special variety, hence the righteous choice of director.


The ending massacre is truly ruthless, and, not to mention, buttock crushing. In one awesome bit of business, a girl falls through a broken step, and her buddy tries to lift her up, only to find that she has been cut in half (in record time) by the maniac; a gag that later showed up in Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (which would make the Stage Fright sequence “David Nelson-esque“, to be fair). Another fella gets his head chopped off while trying to start a truck, setting up a nice gag where a girl gets in the truck with him, calls his name, and shakes him when he doesn’t answer. The devilishly witted maniac neatly placed the severed head back into place, and the movement of the body causes his head to roll off. This gag was replicated in Freddy Vs. Jason, amongst other movies I believe.

You know, it’s starting to look like David Nelson deserves a lot more credit within the horror genre, even though he only directed one horror movie. He may have in fact have pioneered many convoluted tricks that have inspired other great filmmakers. Not to mention he was in Peyton Place. Good god. Also, he’s not to be confused with northern Chicago suburb camcorder pioneer, David “The Rock” Nelson. Wait a second…what if they’re the same person? Holy shit.


Anyway, this culminates in the trick reveal, where-in Lily discovers the killer is actually her long lost father, who brutally killed the innocent teenagers because they were “whores”, which I suppose includes the fat virgin guy with the afro. Daddy promptly falls out of a window, impaling himself. The fat ass sheriff finally shows up, and immediately engages in his own brand of justice. With no prior knowledge of these murderous events, and without uttering a word (or, god forbid, reading someone their rights), he blows the head off the already dying killer. I guess he had one of those “bacon hunches” and, for once, was spot on.

Several actors in the movie also appeared in Day of Judgment, which is about a grim reaper fellow killing a few commandment breakers (you know, like, you totally shouldn’t kill people, or screw around with your sister, or urinate on someone’s head, etc.) in a small North Carolina town set in the 20’s. While similar in the broadest cinematic sense, it’s strikes me as a boring, pussified period version of House of Death, what without the steadying hand of David Nelson and his ability to develop realistic small town teenagers, and, more importantly, the where-with-all to have them brutally massacred at the height of their innocence.

P.S. The great website Bleeding Skull recorded a commentary for the movie. Download and sync bitches!

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