Director: Maury Dexter
20th Century Fox

If last year’s surprise Halloween DVD release from Fox was CABINET OF CALIGARI, this year it’s surely HOUSE OF THE DAMNED. Produced by Robert Lippert's Associated Producers Inc., this oddball haunted house flick has never had a video release until now, and Fox has unleashed it in all its CinemaScope glory! Fox should be complimented for digging deep into the vaults and giving one of their most obscure genre titles a proper DVD release.

Architect Scott Campbell (Ron Foster) is hired to assess an empty gothic mansion in California which was leased to a circus showman who has mysteriously vanished. Taking his wife Nancy (Merry Anders) along for the weekend stay, the two are delighted at first to be spending their anniversary there, but then things get a little strange. Hearing noises and seeing things move in the middle of the night, their set of 13 house keys disappears then reappears with two missing. Scott’s employer Joseph Schiller (Richard Crane, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) later shows up, as does his wife Loy (Erika Peters, MR. SARDONICUS), whom he seems to have a shaky relationship with. Loy is soon abducted by a mute and shirtless giant, the house’s murderous past is revealed, and some sinister squatters are discovered roaming in its many dark corridors and hidden rooms.

Running only 63 minutes long, HOUSE OF THE DAMNED was obviously put together to fill the bottom half of a double bill, and that’s fine because it certainly plays like a second feature, kinda resembling a William Castle production. Maury Dexter (who would later graduate to AIP drive-in fare such as MARYJANE, THE MINI-SKIRT MOB and HELL’S BELLES) does the best he can with a one dimensional story, using lots of low lit photography to create an eerie mood, and hurling a few cheap shocks across the screen – including a crazed old asylum lady hiding behind a door to startle a butchy nurse and an optical trick of a headless woman sitting in a chair. The real gimmick of the film is that several authentic freaks are employed, and the ending presents what is ultimately a cheat, yet a bittersweet moment. The ex-circus performers consist of a legless man (John Gilmore), a legless woman (Frieda Pushnik), a fat lady (Ayllene Gibbons), and a giant played by a very young Richard Kiel, a busy 7 foot 2 inch character actor who would later gain international fame as “Jaws” in two James Bond films. The scene of the legless Gilmore inching his way across a bedroom floor in silhouette is quite creepy and somewhat reminiscent of the similarly handicapped Johnny Eck, the “half boy” of Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932).

Fox’s DVD of HOUSE OF THE DAMNED has the full screen pan & scan version on side A, but it's recommended to skip over that for side B and the proper widescreen version. Shown in the original 2.35:1 CinemaScope format with anamorphic enhancement, the black and white image appears clean and quite crisp. Detail is excellent with deep blacks and no significant blemishes whatsoever. A Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is included here in both original mono and stereo, and optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are included. The extras consist of the original trailer and a brief poster gallery exhibiting some pressbook ad mats. (George R. Reis)