Director: Kevin Connor, J. Larry Carroll
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Vengeful, sword-wielding samurai warriors come back to terrorize the 20th century in this Blu-ray double feature package from Scream Factory.

Based on a novel by James Hardiman, the 1982 haunted house tale known as THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS got lost in the shuffle with other more popular titles like POLTERGEIST and THE ENTITY, and it’s easy to see why. But through the miracle of Cable TV – the early 1980s dumping grounds for stuff nobody paid to see theatrically – THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS got some decent exposure for late-night gazers with nothing better to do. Director Kevin Connor is a Britisher who previously helmed good films such as FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE and THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, and before this had just done the popular satirical gore opus MOTEL HELL; this is one of his last theatrical efforts before maintaining a long career in TV movies.

In 1840 Japan, a Samurai comes home to witness his wife having an affair with another man. He pulls out his mighty sword, slices and dices them, and then commits Kamikaze on himself. Flash forward to the early 1980s, and photojournalist Ted Fletcher (Edward Albert, BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE) with wife Laura (Susan George, FRIGHT) and their daughter Amy (Amy Barrett, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) travel to Japan where he is to do some magazine work. Their American diplomat friend Alex Curtis (Doug McClure, AT THE EARTH’S CORE) greets them at the airport, telling them he found an old-style Japanese house for them to rent cheap on account that it’s believed to be haunted. They easily take it, but all hell breaks loose as the ghostly trio of the 19th century sex triangle still haunts the joint. Not only do they taunt the new tenants by breaking objects and messing with the kitchen sink, but they embody them from time to time, causing Laura to initiate an affair with Alex, which will eventually lead to a recreation of the bloody tragedy.

Starting off with an impressive flashback sequence that has an ancient warrior hacking off his enemy’s arm and graphically decapitating him, THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS then just unwraps as routine fluff that fills the running time with clichés until the predictable climax. The film can only be enjoyed on a camp level, as the theatrical make-up on the three spirits is pretty poor, and the special effects of them entering their modern counterparts' bodies is bound to be considered dated by modern CGI-raised audiences. Most of the scare tactics bring more laughs than fright, such as little Amy Barrett screaming at an unfriendly face in her bowl of soup. Only a scene with some large crabs crawling through a bedroom is able to invoke some chills. The film has an extreme lack of focus, as the modern inhabitants sometimes are able to see the ghosts, while most of the time they can’t. And why would the ghostly wife and her lover team up with the murdering husband to torment this poor couple in the first place? Just because they decided to rent the place?

Albert and McClure (in his fifth and final film for director Connor) are not bad here, but they sometimes have a kind of “what am I doing in this picture” expression on their faces. Amy Barrett is one of the worst child actresses in one of the worst child performances ever. Henry Mitowa plays a monk who attempts a fruitless exorcism, and whenever he’s speaking his lines, you can see his eyes drifting towards the cue cards. British actress George is great as usual, doing another convincing American accent (remember DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY?) and adding nice amounts of pathos and emotion to her part. “Celebrity Skin” fans will be happy to know that she does ample doses of nudity in her steamy love scene with Albert, as well as a shorter one with McClure. Seeing the sexy actress in the buff is probably enough to warrant the low retail price of this double feature Blu-ray.

Previously available on DVD from MGM (in both widescreen and full frame versions), THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS now makes its way to Blu-ray in a brand new HD transfer. Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, the transfer offers excellent detail and sharpness, and clarity is also very good, even in darker scenes. Colors are bright and accurate, black levels are deep, and grain structure is in intact. Also, the increased resolution doesn’t ruin the optical effects in any way, but actually makes them look more convincing. THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS features a DTS-HD Master Audio mono track, and it supports the film’s dialogue well, as it does the rather harmonious score by Ken Thorne (SUPERMAN II), with fidelity also being fine. Optional English SDH subtitles are included, as well as the original trailer.

A lot different in tone than THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS, GHOST WARRIOR opens up in 16th century Japan with samurai warrior Yoshimitsu (Japanese “Kamen Rider” TV star Hiroshi Fujiok) falling into a lake and becoming frozen after his lover has been accidentally killed. 400 years later, in the 20th century, two skiers discover his preserved body in a cave, and it’s then shipped to a clinic in Los Angeles where a supposed autopsy is to be conducted. An arrogant, self-serving scientist involved in cryosurgery, Dr. Alan Richards (John Calvin, CALIFORNIA DREAMING) is able to revive Yoshimitsu, bringing in an expert on all things “Oriental” Chris Welles (Janet Julian, HUMONGOUS) to placate the unfrozen Shogun with familiar surroundings once he has awaken. After learning about the enormous value of Yoshimitsu’s sword, a dumb orderly attempts to steal it from him, using an intravenous poll as a weapon and getting himself killed in the process. Yoshimitsu escapes, protects an old man (veteran character actor Charles Lampkin, CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME) from a group of violent street thugs, eats at a sushi bar, has another showdown with the thugs (now on motorcycles), is reunited with the overly-concerned Janet, is nearly put to rest by the uncouth Dr. Alan and his needle, and runs from the police via horseback.

Also known as SWORDKILL and not released in the U.S. until 1986, GHOST WARRIOR was an Empire Pictures production with all of the Bands involved – Albert Band as executive producer, son Charles Band as producer and younger son Richard Band performing the score. This is not really a horror film, and not much of a martial arts film, and it seems some of its “fish out of water” time warp themes could also be found in such previous movies as BLACULA and TIME AFTER TIME (though this almost feels like a “samurai” version of the cavemen-brought-back-to-live effort ICEMAN, which was made around the same time). If you look at this as a 1980s slice of camp with an “everything but the kitchen sink” plot, GHOST WARRIOR is actually fun and Fujiok takes the role seriously enough to convince an audience that the only thing jarring about waking up in 20th century America is being subjected to a rowdy music video by the heavy metal band W.A.S.P. on a tiny portable TV. As a “researcher” who admits she doesn’t know much Japanese but then suddenly is able to communicate with our centuries-old noble friend with little effort, Janet Julian displays some laughable acting skills that definitely up the cheese factor. The period flashbacks here are beautifully shot, the police detectives are slobs, the street gangs are cinematically exaggerated, and with a swift 81-minute running time, this is a harmless time-passer.

MGM previously released GHOST WARRIOR in 2011 as manufactured-on-demand DVD as part of their “Limited Edition Collection”. Shout! Factory/Scream Factory has now licensed the film from MGM, using a beautiful 1080p HD transfer that preserves its 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Detail is crisp, colors are nicely saturated, and black levels are also consistently solid. Imperfections on the print source are minor, and the grain field also looks natural. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono track has very good dynamic range, with clear dialogue and the music score also coming through nicely. Optional English SDH subtitles are included, as is a theatrical trailer (under the SWORDKILL title). (George R. Reis)