Director: James Riffel
Vinegar Syndrome

THE HOUSE ON TOMBSTONE HILL is full of "dead dudes" when Vinegar Syndrome rehabilitates another Troma pick-up on Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Preppy Mark (Douglas Gibson, POISON) buys a mansion in the middle of nowhere for a steal hoping to fix it up and flip it with the help of prissy girlfriend Jamie (Sarah Newhouse, CHAIN OF DESIRE), jock Ron (Mark Zobian), jerk Bob (Victor Verhaeghe, TIME OUT OF MIND), stooge Joey (Eugene Sautner), along with dorky couple Linda (Naomi Kooker) and Steve (J.D. Cerna). The price comes as no surprise when they discover that the derelict condition of the interior and the ancient crone who is squatting on the property. The door sticking proves to be something more worrying when the group find themselves trapped inside with the old woman who starts murdering them one by one. Things get worse when their friends come back from the dead to help her make sure the survivors – including a pair of teenagers (James Griffith and CRUTCH's Rob Morretti) sneaking in on a dare – will never leave alive.

An upstate New York late-era supernatural slasher, THE HOUSE ON TOMBSTONE HILL looks reasonably slick for a Super 16-to-35mm blow-up production, with the spare plotting and flat acting reminiscent of one of Joe D'Amato's East Coast-lensed Filmirage productions – particularly those using the EVIL DEAD template like GHOSTHOUSE, WITCHERY, and KILLING BIRDS – with splashy Ed French (BLOOD RAGE) gore set-pieces seeming to be the more explicit references like a plate glass window bisection out of SUPERSTITION or a double hand amputation from DEATH SCREAMS. The supernatural backstory, which involves the specter of the old woman's daughter (Leighann Belair) who tempts the teenagers by starting to remove her bra before they are cock-blocked by her weapon-wielding mother, is not particularly compelling but the film's humorous passages are understated enough to not upstage the more traditional horror elements, including a synth score by William B. Riffel – presumably a relation of director James Riffel whose subsequent genre efforts have been WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY?-esque parody dubs of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE – and some fine photography by Mark Petersson, a documentary DP who worked on the camera crew of MANIAC COP.

Picked up by Troma Films, THE HOUSE ON TOMBSTONE HILL was retitled DEAD DUDES IN THE HOUSE when Troma put it out on VHS with extremely misleading artwork that tried to give the film a comic, hip-hop vibe. The same murky video transfer wound up on Brentwood's TOXIE'S TRIPLE TERROR VOLUME 6 set and TOXIE'S TOP TEN boxed set in 2005, followed by a Troma MOD DVD-R in 2010. Restored from the original 16mm camera negatives bearing the title THE DEAD COME HOME, Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that remains grainy while restoring a degree of slickness to this low-budget production where shadows are deeper and blood once again pops where once the photography looked rather rushed and the lighting either bright and flat or just murky. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is also clean, although the mix is fairly basic with clear dialogue, sound design that is more supporting of onscreen action – apart from the noises that draw characters into other rooms – and scoring. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras start off with "Three Dead Dudes" (29:14), a trio of intercut interviews with actors Zobian, Verhaeghe and Gibson. All three discuss coming to New York to be actors, discovering the listing for the film in Backstage, and the shoot. Canadian Gibson recalls being asked to also play the old woman under make-up since the character was required to do things that would be taxing on an aged actress, the pain of prosthetic make-up, camping on location, and shares some recollections of the co-stars. Verhaeghe recalls Riffel's directorial style that allowed them to bring a lot of themselves into their character, as well as recalling his death scene with Ed French make-up effects (with future KNB effects artist Bruce Spaulding Fuller playing his lower half). Zobian also recalls his reaction to the DEAD DUDES advertising campaign. Chris Poggiali conducts a telephone interview with director James Riffel (42:28) in which he recalls scaling down his original screenplay (which was based on the germ of a true incident) and going door-to-door in a rich neighborhood seeking funding as well as calling up the owners of Lamborghinis from the contact list of a friend's dealership. He also discusses the shoot and stumbling across the location, as well as his chief investor dying as the film was being edited and deciding to pay off the lab fees by striking a 35mm blow-up and touring it on foot (the film mainly played at midnight showings but one location showed in during the day against TREMORS). Also included is a behind-the-scenes still gallery but no Troma promo for the film. The cover is reversible. (Eric Cotenas)