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Review: THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES (1974)

91R2u84-EFL._SL1500_THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES (1974, DVD/Blu-Ray Combo)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

I actually bought this movie on DVD way back in 2000 when Image Entertainment had the rights to it. At that time I had never heard of the movie and was only made aware of it, I believe, through some mentioning of it in Fangoria. That mentioning is what got me to buy it. But, it was another matter altogether when I settled down to watch it. I think I got about a half hour in when the tedium of the plot finally destroyed any and all interest I had in it.

Just this past Halloween TCM aired it one late night. I recorded it and again tried to watch it. This time it wasn’t the storyline that derailed my desire but the god-awful transfer and audio. Still determined to see this movie through to the end, I finally managed to score a review copy of it from Severin and this time managed to see it through to the end. I wasn’t totally put off by the tedium of the story this time, but the ending was a headscratcher.

Okay, so, the story goes like this, horror movie director, Eric Hartman (John Ireland), whom I will always remember as the local sheriff in The Incubus (1982), takes a film crew to this haunted mansion to make a horror movie. Among the cast members of the movie within the movie is Gayle Dorian (Faith Domergue), whom I will always equate with It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), and the mansion’s caretaker, Edgar Price, played by horror icon, John Carradine.

About 90% of this movie is focused on Hartman’s making of his horror movie with for the first hour at least smidgens of supernatural activity mixed in between. Those smidgens focuses on one of Hartman’s actors, David (Jerry Strickler) who finds a shelf full of “forbidden tomes,” one of which is the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, and I think we all know by now what happens when unsuspecting people read and/or recite passages from these kinds of books. And that’s exactly what David does at the behest of Hartman who wants to add some of the passages to his movie.

In that first hour we get the unexplained death of Gayle’s cat; David and his actress girlfriend spotting Price going behind a tombstone, lifting something up and disappearing into the ground; and the history of the Beal mansion which involved the inexplicable murders/suicide of the family. Nothing that goes on in the movie is ever explained. We never find out why or how Gayle’s cat was cut in half, where the hell Carradine went when he went into the ground, or why David goes mad and tries to push Hartman into an open grave as they’re out in the cemetery getting exterior shots for the movie.
Even more inexplicable is when Hartman flips him into the grave and two pairs of desiccated undead arms appear seconds later and tries to grab Hartman. Did David turn into this corpse? Unknown. But before that event even happens, a corpse comes out of that same open grave, staggers into the mansion and kills everyone there. So, there were two corpses? Unknown, we never see them together, or why the corpse carries a dead, naked actress back into the open grave with it as the credits roll.

As of this writing I have yet to listen to the commentary, which I’m thankful there is one. And I’ll be checking it out tonight for some kind of explanation.

Putting all other releases to shame Severin Films released this movie back in August in a DVD/Blu-ray combo with a transfer that’s ten times better than the one TCM ran. It’s not perfect, it still shows some minor print damage in places, but the colors and the dark levels are striking.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—DTS-HD Master Audio Mono—No subtitles.

The audio commentary with Associate Producer Gary Kent, moderated by Lars Nilsen was a great one full of information about the location, the actors, low-budget filmmaking in general but it didn’t shed much light on the plot. In my second viewing, though, I finally noticed the connection between the murders of the original family members seen in the prologue and the murders of the film crew at the end and how they mimicked one another, and then had that fact backed up by Kent in the closing moments of the movie.

Along with the movie’s theatrical trailer the main extra here is the newly discovered interview with John Carradine that runs 28:03. It was a very enlightening one, too. It’s obvious from the start Carradine was never a horror movie fan. He clearly states he’s made over 400 movies, with only 25 of them being in the horror genre and towards the end he states he’s never understood people’s fascination with them. He reveals theater is his first love and anything that took him out of it was only a job. He was also grateful for those “jobs” for they allowed him to see a lot of the world.

This film reminds me of Jim Wynorski’s remake of Not Of This Earth (1988) in that I had vague memories of seeing it on cable but was unsure if the eventual DVD I had ordered would be a keeper. After finally seeing it after all those years I didn’t think it was all that great, then I listened to the new commentary included with Wynorski and Traci Lords and I suddenly found myself actually appreciating the movie. The House Of Seven Corpses is exactly like that. The commentary was so insightful I now like the movie and deem it a keeper.

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