Director: Sergei Goncharoff

Retromedia take a visit to the HOUSE OF TERROR for this little-seen thriller’s fortieth anniversary.

Lovely Jennifer Andrews (Jennifer Bishop, THE MAD ROOM) flees San Francisco for Southern California to take a job as a private nurse for the suicidal wife of wealthy Emmett Kramer (Mitchell Gregg). Although Kramer warmly welcomes Jennifer, she is hated on the spot by his wife Marsha (Jacquelyn Hyde, SUPERSTITION) as well as the creepy housekeeper Norma (Irene Byatt, BUNNY O’HARE) who was struck dumb (and ugly) by the discovery of Kramer’s brutally murdered parents years before. In town, Jennifer runs into ex-boyfriend Mark (Arell Blanton, WILD RIDERS) – also the father of her child – who has just served a three year stint in prison for armed robbery. They fall back into bed – well I guess they do, since a dissolve from a passionate kiss finds them upright and dressed as before, but apparently some time has passed – and Mark starts getting ideas about exploiting Kramer’s wealth. When Jennifer discovers Marsha lying in a tub full of blood – an apparent suicide – Mark tells her that he’ll marry her if she marries Kramer first (the plan being to divorce him and get a settlement). Things go awry quickly when Jennifer finds herself falling for Kramer; so Mark turns up as Jennifer’s brother home from Vietnam and becomes a permanent houseguest. He reveals his new plans to arrange an accident for Kramer, just as he did for Mrs. Kramer; but a new wrench is thrown into the works with the arrival of Marsha’s more glamorous sister Delores (also Hyde) who has her own plans for Kramer’s money.

There’s no nudity (although Bishop sports a couple of pointed bras and Blanton spends most of the film without a shirt) and the PG-rated gore could easily play on television; however HOUSE OF TERROR almost seems like a spiritual cousin to the Peter Carpenter vehicles POINT OF TERROR and BLOOD MANIA with the soapy DIABOLIQUE-esque plotting with multiple double-crossings, a script by Tony Crechales (who wrote both Carpenter films), and Robert Maxwell’s consistently-striking photography with its wide-angle delirium and stark lighting (Blanton also appeared as the blackmailer in BLOOD MANIA). Euro horror fans might also spot some Mario Bava-esque touches: the distorted opening murder sequence looks like something out of HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON or BAY OF BLOOD, while Hyde’s Marsha hair and make-up cast her as a barely living version of the vengeful dead medium from the “Drop of Water” segment of BLACK SABBATH while her Delores seems like a character Laura Betti would play in a Bava film. As with BLOOD MANIA, the Hollywood Hills mansion is a striking character of its own.

Bishop gives a forceful – if not exactly compelling – performance as a heroine who is genuinely conflicted throughout the film about her role in Mark’s machinations, so her decisions in the climax are believable. Bishop had appeared in a handful of Al Adamson films during the period – Goncharoff seems to have recruited her from THE FEMALE BUNCH which he edited – and would later appear in a couple William Grefe films. Blanton seems to be doing a Clint Eastwood impression throughout, and he plays better off Hyde (in two showier roles) than off of Bishop. The best performance, however, belongs to an uncredited William Kerwin (BLOOD FEAST) in a single scene as Kramer’s lawyer creeped out by Delores’ forwardness (Kerwin’s daughter handled the film’s wardrobe). Art direction is credited to Phedon Paramichael – father of the like-named cinematographer who started out working for Corman during the Concorde days (DANCE OF THE DAMNED) and went on to shoot THE DESCENDENTS and THE IDES OF MARCH – in between assignments for John Cassavetes. Seasoned exploitation composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava is credited as “musical director” suggesting the score is probably made up of library tracks, while producer George J. Gade is credited with additional source music and a song that passed by without my noticing. Al Adamson regular John “Bud” Cardos is credited as second unit director.

Previously released in the US on tape in 1987 by Trans World Entertainment with a cover that suggests a 1980s slasher (although it’s not much more misleading than the 1970s poster which makes it look more like a horror movie), Retromedia’s interlaced, fullscreen transfer of HOUSE OF TERROR has been taken from a 16mm print source. There are a couple scratches here and there, but that’s down to the source print. A couple split-second audio dropouts may be damage to the master or ragged sound editing (there are a couple abrupt starts and stops of music cues), but the audio is otherwise fine. The only extra is a compilation of 38 trailers called the “Super Horror Trailer-rama” (61:09). You get some classics (CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), Vincent Price (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE BAT), Lon Chaney Jr. (INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN, BLOOD OF THE MAN DEVIL), some Corman (SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA), Monte Hellman (SKI-TROOP ATTACK), Barbara Steele (CASTLE OF BLOOD, TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE), Spanish horror (AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, THE SOUND OF HORROR), British horror (JACK THE RIPPER, THE TELL-TALE HEART under its Brigadier U.S. release title THE HIDDEN ROOM OF A THOUSAND HORRORS), Tor Johnson (BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, THE UNEARTHLY), exploitation (DAUGHTER OF HORROR, THE FLAMING TEENAGE), teen terrors (FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER), sci-fi (LIGHTING BOLT, ISLAND OF TERROR), crime (GUN GIRLS, MA BARKER’S BLOODY BROOD), and so on. Quality is variable – I would guess that some come from Sinister Cinema trailer compilation VHS tapes (the CASTLE OF BLOOD trailer is in the same splicy condition as on some of their tape releases) – but they are individually chaptered so you can skip through to find the interesting ones. (Eric Cotenas)