In the late ’80s, the Italian genre filmmakers who could still get the money together to make a film would sometimes shoot on the cheap in the United States, using amateur American actors to make it affordable. These films often moved into bizarre territory in their guesswork-style attempts to portray American life and the use of poorly-directed novice actors would add another layer of accidental surrealism to the proceedings. Troll II is perhaps the best-known example of this combo in action but it’s just one of many. Ghosthouse is another – and has a certain novelty for fans of trashy Italian horror because it was directed by the infamous Umberto Lenzi.
As the title suggests, Ghosthouse revolves around horrific happenings at a haunted house. However, the way they get there is quirky in an Italian genre kind of way: college student Paul (Greg Scott), who also happens to be a ham radio enthusiast, hears a transmission of screams over his radio setup. He takes his girlfriend Martha (Lara Wendel, one of a few Italian horror vets here) to the location, which turns out to be a rural house where another young ham radio enthusiast is vacationing with his friends. In short order, they discover the house is haunted by a spooky little girl ghost with an even spookier clown doll – and a plethora of budget-priced supernatural murder setpieces follow.
Ghosthouse shamelessly cribs from a variety of sources: Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, even House By The Cemetery (it uses the same house location that film used for its exteriors). It’s never convincing or scary but it’s got weirdness to burn: the use of ham radio for a plot device, characters who defy common sense by constantly splitting up or abandoning each other to facilitate the shocks and a weird setpiece that involves a guy falling into a vat of semen-like white goo. The characters are constantly making bizarre jokes, getting into arguments for no reason and using mangled versions of American slang that will raise a smile of recognition from Troll II fans.
The results are dopey… but amusingly so. Lenzi, directing under the pseudonym of “Humphrey Humbert,” keeps the bizarre events unrolling at a fast clip and throws in an occasional bit of classic Italian splatter (the double-murder that kicks off the film is a highlight in this vein). A lot of the setpieces play out like self-parodies – the murder of a mortician is particularly hilarious, almost like a Tim & Eric sketch – but the use of the Poltergeist-esque clown doll is creepy in spite of itself, primarily because of a weird, garbled chant that plays whenever it appears.
In short, Ghosthouse might not work as a horror film but as an accidentally self-parodic, funhouse mirror reflection of American horror hits, it offers a mixture of laughs and cheap thrills that trash fiends will find uniquely enjoyable.
Blu-Ray Notes: this was recently issued by Scream Factory as part of a 2-for-1 disc with Witchery. Details can be a bit soft in the master used here but the colors and quality of the materials used are a step up from past DVD versions. It’s also framed at the proper 1.66:1 screen ratio. The 2.0 lossless audio sounds solid, particularly in how it how uses the film’s synth-heavy score. The one extra included is a highlights reel-style theatrical trailer but the inclusion of Witchery makes this two-fer a nice value for Italian trash horror collectors.