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.
The 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.
Connor 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.