Sunday, March 15, 2015

Behind Forbidden Doors


THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR makes the cover of German magazine Film Neues-Programm, where it was released under a title which translates to GOOSEBUMPS.

AN early attempt at the teen slasher movie that would explode a decade later, Michael Armstrong's THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR begins during a less than swinging shindig in Carnaby Street. A group of bored youths - including Chris (twenty-nine year old Frankie Avalon, in a role intended for Ian Ogilvy), Sheila (Jill Haworth), Gary (Mark Wynter) and Peter (Richard O'Sullivan) - leave the party and drive to a deserted mansion haunted by a killer who murdered his family in a frenzied knife attack twenty years previously. When Gary is slayed, rather than report the incident to the police, the group hide the body and try to solve the mystery themselves.

After all the problems with THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR, it is amazing that director/writer Armstrong had the inclination to continue in the industry. Developed from his script THE DARK from 1960, Armstrong envisioned the film as a vehicle to showcase the talents of then unknown David Bowie, who the filmmaker had worked with on the 1967 avant-garde short THE IMAGE. With this being a joint Tigon/AIP picture, American International's head of British productions Louis M. Hayward ordered a new draft to add sex scenes, Americanise characters, and include an ill Boris Karloff so the literally fading star could see out the last three days on his AIP contract. "Deke" Hayward also rejected any involvement with Bowie, insisting that Stateside audiences wouldn't except any songs unless they were sung by Avalon. Deke then butchered Armstrong's revised draft anyway, turning Karloff into a crazed Police Inspector in a wheelchair, somehow rampaging around a derelict house before proving to be a red herring; this was a similar synopsis for Karloff that actually reached some kind of fruition a year previously with CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR.

Michael Armstrong encountered endless front office interference while making his debut picture, but things didn't get better for his next project, filming the notorious MARK OF THE DEVIL in Austria. The Bolton-born filmmaker would later write numerous 1970's British sex comedies and Pete Walker's HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS.

To ease tensions between Armstrong and Hayward, Tigon head Tony Tenser intended to shoot two versions: essentially Armstrong's third draft, and Deke's AIP/Karloff version. But when it became evident that Karloff was too ill to participate - even in a desperately proposed introductory speech - the inspector role was awarded to Dennis Price. While Hayward was called away on problems with Cy Enfield's DE SADE, Armstrong shot his scenes while Tenser attempted to capture Deke's wheelchair killer; with a rough cut not ready for an international sales pitch by AIP heads Arkoff and Nicholson, Tenser cut together what he could - to disastrous results. With Tigon trying to appease AIP and Hayward attempting to hide his meddling, Armstrong then discovered that Gerry Levy was shooting additional scenes (essentially giving Sylvia (Gina Warwick) an affair with sugar daddy Kellett (George Sewell), a pub sing-a-long, and generally toning down the feel of the film - under the pseudonym Peter Marcus). Filled with clichéd lines ("I really dig this place", "Let's hold a séance!", "I think its a gas!"), Armstrong's intended darker, sexually edgier piece is not surprisingly lost in the mess.