One of the best sur­pris­es an exploita­tion movie fan can enjoy comes when an innocu­ous look­ing film sneaks up on them and deliv­ers the goods in unex­pect­ed ways. Schlockmania fond­ly con­sid­ers The House Where Evil Dwells to be such a film. This film deliv­ers an array of cheap thrills that its mod­est sur­face wouldn’t sug­gest, mix­ing the famil­iar with the flat-out bizarre in a way like­ly to cap­ti­vate b-movie fans.

HouseWED-posThe plot of The House Where Evil Dwells appears to be boil­er­plate ghost sto­ry mate­ri­al: writer Ted Fletcher (Edward Albert) and his wife Laura (Susan George) trav­el to Japan with their daugh­ter so Ted can work on a book. Ted’s diplo­mat pal Alex (Doug McClure) sets them up in a beau­ti­ful rural house with a cheap rental price. Unfortunately, said house is cheap because it is haunt­ed: a cen­tu­ry ago, a love tri­an­gle came to a grue­some, sword-slash­ing end there. The ghosts of the dead lovers remain and begin to pos­sess Ted and Laura, doing their best to revive tragedies of old in the present day.

The result­ing film often feels like a t.v. movie peri­od­i­cal­ly sub­vert­ed by sur­pris­ing dol­lops of sex and vio­lence. Robert Suhosky’s script is pre­dictable and light on char­ac­ter­i­za­tion but it works beau­ti­ful­ly as a set­piece machine, dol­ing out an array of ghost sto­ry thrills with no-frills effi­cien­cy and nod­ding to mod­ern view­er expec­ta­tions with a cou­ple of sex sce­nes and some limp-lop­ping sword­play.

Director Kevin Connor can’t over­come the sil­ly ele­ments of the script: the film’s infa­mous moments involve a ghost face appear­ing in a bowl of soup to men­ace the daugh­ter and a cou­ple of giant crabs that show up and mum­ble in ghost voic­es, plus there’s the fact that ghosts super-imposed via cheap opti­cal FX walk in and out of the heroes to make them do naughty things. That said, Connor gives the film an unex­pect­ed­ly atmos­pher­ic style, with moody pho­tog­ra­phy from future Wes Craven d.p. Jacques Haitkin and effec­tive use of Japanese loca­tions and Toho stu­dio sets.

THWED-GW-bluConnor also man­ages to anchor the some­times shock­ing, some­times goofy mate­ri­al with strong per­for­mances. Albert does qual­i­ty journeyman’s work as the hus­band, play­ing it for straight-faced dra­ma that con­nects sur­pris­ing­ly well, and George shi­nes in a showy role where she applies her tal­ent for intense emo­tions to ghost-assist­ed mood swings (exploita­tion fans will be hap­py to note she also gives her all in the sex sce­nes). McClure has less to do but gives a steady per­for­mance that holds down his end of the love tri­an­gle.

Best of all, Connor book­ends the film with a pair of killer sequences. The open­er is a shock­ing, styl­ized scene that starts as a seduc­tion and becomes an equal­ly over­heat­ed mas­sacre. There’s a fun use of slow-motion and creepy, echo-drenched sound design on dis­play in this open­er. The direc­tor also man­ages a final reel for the record books: it incor­po­rates an eleven­th-hour exor­cism and a brawl that mutates into ghost-assist­ed karate and sword­play.

The end result is an unpre­dictable mix­ture of the lurid, the famil­iar and the wacked-out that will be cat­nip to fans of ‘80s exploita­tion.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory has released this title as part of a dou­ble-bill blu-ray with Ghost Warrior. The trans­fer does well by Haitkin’s styl­ish pho­tog­ra­phy, bring­ing out the col­ors and enhanc­ing the detail. The loss­less mono audio is free of dis­tor­tion and offers a solid vin­tage mix. The one extra for the film is a trail­er that plays up its cheap thrills.