FIVE FILMS FROM...1969
The Haunted House of Horror
(Directed by Michael Armstrong)
Sometimes called “Horror House” or “The Dark”, this does-what-it-says-on-the-tin film is often overlooked in the annals of psycho and slasher movies. Whilst it isn’t exactly the best offering from a fairly lean year in horror, it deserves to be recognised and noted for a number of valid reasons. It rather bizarrely stars former teen idol Frankie Avalon, best known at the time for the 60’s “Beach Party” films, and marked Armstrong’s first foray into genre before he helmed the infamous “Mark of the Devil”. An American-British project that combined Tigon studios with AIP, it underwent many re-writes, rumours of drug-taking, and last minute casting choices. Starting in “Swinging London” at the time, a group of (suspiciously mature looking) “young people” trespass in a deserted “haunted” mansion, looking for kicks and thrills…. until bloody murder occurs and they start searching for an unhinged killer in their midst.
HHOH isn’t particularly well-made or written, and it has dated horrendously in many ways (mostly due to the period details). But what’s striking about it is that it stumbles across the perfect formula for a 70s/80s Slasher movie well before “Halloween” and “Black Christmas”. In fact, it’s pretty much an attempt at a British Giallo, with its red herring suspects and crimson-stained set-pieces, especially the moment a victim drips a constant stream of blood through a hole in an upper floor. The killer has a nonsensical-but-compelling motive for carrying out the murders, and his/her identity is teased until the denouement (although it’s easy to guess). And whilst the killings aren’t exactly of Tom Savini quality, they are quite bloody for the time. Even the ending is oddly dark, with an unexpected death and a character reverting to childhood and running sobbing into the darkness. The creepy soundtrack lingers as well…
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
(Directed by Terence Fisher)
When film studios make adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, the focus is usually on the plight of the monster or the destruction he reaps. However the cycle of “Frankenstein” films made by Hammer uniquely concentrated on the “good” Doctor himself, and the various lurid and unlikely medical procedures he formulated for the advancement of science. This was helped by the incomparable presence of the great Peter Cushing as Frankenstein, who portrayed him as an amoral character only driven by self-serving motives. The fact that Fisher was one Hammer’s best directors and usually helmed these movies, helped a great deal as well. This offering, the 5th Franken-Hammer film and owner of the best title, sees Cushing return again and dabble in a convoluted plot involving typical nefarious skulduggery, messy brain transplants, and ill-advised cures for insanity!