Friday, October 1, 2010

Houses of Horrible

BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH (1983)
DR TERRIBLE'S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE (2001)

"What in hell is going on at Headstone Manor?" One of the most baffling things about BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH is why Cleo Rocos doesn't take her clothes off.

BY 1983, Kenny Everett was one of the major stars of British television. Made to exploit this popularity, BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH is a brave failure that sees the zany comedian play Dr Lukas Mandeville - a former surgeon with an on-off German accent and a metal leg - the spearhead of a group of scientists sent to investigate the strange activity at Headstone Manor ("Businessman’s Weekend Retreat and Girls’ Summer Camp"). Unknown to them, their presence is about to incur the wrath of a local coven of bumbling but determined Satanists, led by a 700-year-old disciple known only as The Sinister Man (Vincent Price).

Written by Ray Cameron and Barry Cryer, the film flopped disastrously in Britain but was a box office hit down under; in an interview to promote the film on Australian television, Everett attributed its lack of home-ground success to the fact that the British "have no class." But the main reason was the suicidal decision of giving the film an 18 certificate, alienating Everett's young fans but simultaneously fully exploiting its tit humour and comedic gore; in a tour-de-force scene of excess, for example, Mandeville attempts to retrieve his monocle after it drops into his patient during a flashback surgery sequence.

The Countess (Ronni Ancona) bares her fangs in Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust, from DR TERRIBLE'S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE.

BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH is best viewed through a nostalgic haze; its all a juvenile mess, but an entertaining one, leading to a suitably perplexing climax. The cast is a checklist of familiar faces; the “distinguished international team of specialists” include Gareth Hunt and Don Warrington as the most bemused-looking gay couple in cinema history, Sheila Steafel as a butch lesbian, Pamela Stephenson, John Fortune, and Cleo Rocos, the latter redefining the meaning of non-actress. The film also revels in a lengthy list of movie parodies: Steafel in a school uniform (CARRIE (1976)), Stephenson being invisibly raped (THE ENTITY (1982)), a public house straight out of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), and Everett writhing on the table like John Hurt in ALIEN (1979), before finding relief in a prolonged belch. 

When Steve Coogan's DR TERRIBLE'S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE first aired on the BBC in the winter of 2001, critical and public reaction was muted. Fans expecting a comedy akin to Alan Patridge were instead confronted with six quality homages to 1960s and 70s British horror, brimming with in-jokes and notable guest stars. And Now the Fearing apes the Amicus anthology, Frenzy of Tongs takes us back to yellow peril potboilers, and Curse of the Blood of the Lizard of Doom parodies the scientific-experiment-gone-wrong sub-genre. Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust is a sumptuous ode to the 70s Hammer vampire canon, Voodoo Feet of Death takes on the body-part-transplant movie, and Scream Satan Scream! is firmly ensconced in Tigon territory. Unlike the buffoonery of BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH, there is a genuine love for the material being spoofed, which makes the series an incredibly affectionate viewing experience.