“The smell of the rooms… terrifies me.”
I should have known not to get too comfortable with Italian horror. After I unexpectedly loved City of the Living Dead, I ran out to get another Lucio Fulci movie. Can’t go wrong with this one, part of a trilogy with CotLD and The Beyond (which I remember enjoying a decade ago), right? Another bunch of nobodies getting inventively slaughtered by mysterious undead beings while all of humanity is threatened by something evil and inexplicable? But it was just a stupid haunted house movie full of detestable actors.
Opens on a mediocre note. A whiny, out-of-sync blond girl is yelling incessantly after her boyfriend Steve, until a knife through the head finally shuts her up. I didn’t hope this would set the pattern for the rest of the movie (people yelling someone else’s name incessantly for an hour then dying uneventfully) but it sure did.
Steve got killed:
I don’t think of five-year-old psychic creepy-eyed Scandinavian children as being named Bob, but this one is. Bob (Giovanni Frezza, who retired at age 12 after appearing in Demons) moves to a small town in Massachusetts (are all Italian horrors set in MA? See also CotLD and Ghosthouse) with his parents, beardy scholar Norman (Paolo Malco of New York Ripper, Escape 2000) and housewife Lucy (Catriona MacColl, lead screamer from the previous movie). Before they even get to the house, an also-creepy girl who may be a ghost tries to warn him not to go inside. But a five-year-old doesn’t have much authority within the family, so they do.
Norman is picking up the research of a colleague who killed himself while staying in the house. So he’s a writer of some sort… in a house that drives people crazy… with a young psychic son. Very The Shining. But wait, there’s also an apparently evil babysitter straight out of The Omen – odd scene involving May and a decapitated mannequin warns us about her. But it turns out the babysitter (whom I immediately recognized from an early scene in Suspiria) never does anything evil and is eventually slaughtered by the leatherfaced monster in the basement.
There is some kind of plot intrigue which is never adequately explained. I like that about the Fulci and Argento movies of this era, that they suggest great mysteries and conspiracies of which we only learn small parts. The husband swears he’s never been to this town, but people recognize him. The girl who communicates with young Bob via the Shining roams around with her mom or somebody, staring at things and making vague warnings. And some realtors fret over whether they’ll be able to unload the Freudstein house (what an awesome name) in which the family is staying. I guess that one isn’t much of a conspiracy. Also there are zooms – lots of them. I don’t have a problem with that.
But the plot isn’t what’s important. What’s vital is that Bob seems to do most of the talking, and he is dubbed by an awful woman doing a shrill kid voice. And really, most of the movie is people walking slowly around calling somebody’s name. When anyone is evil, lying, or a ghost they act super obvious about it. And there are crying, whimpering sounds on the soundtrack all the time, even when Bob isn’t on screen. None of this is worth sitting through for a standard haunted-house movie. Admittedly it was still better than Ghosthouse, but if they’d lost Bob it could have been halfway decent instead of just not-altogether-terrible.
There’s a cellar in the house, which is locked. And the lid to a tomb is in the hallway. “Wait a minute – if there’s a cellar, won’t that tomb just be sitting in the cellar under the hallway,” I thought, and sure enough the dead fellow (Dr. Freudstein: Giovanni de Nava, who played “Joe the Plumber” in Fulci’s The Beyond), looking somewhat like Baghead, is just lumbering around loose in the cellar. Stupid Norman goes on a goose chase to another town looking for Freudstein’s grave (didn’t CotLD also end with people looking for graves?) while the monster, having already stabbed a realtor (Dagmar Lassander, who went on to appear in Devil Fish) and beheaded the babysitter, threatens his family. But he makes it home just in time to prove totally ineffective, and I cheer as Bob gets permanent horrific psychological damage from watching his parents get killed by an undead maniac. Bob himself ends up in another dimension with the ghost girl, so maybe he got killed too, who knows?
Evil Dead connections: there is exposition via audio tape, and once while Lucy is alone, everything in the house starts making noise at once. Also: Bob calls his Curious George doll “Yogi” and someone says the line “I’ve lost all critical perspective!” Bob’s dad wastes some of our time in the library with Carlo De Mejo (surviving hero of City of the Living Dead – he was in Guardian of Hell this same year, which sounds like a better follow-up to CotLD than this turned out to be) and creepy librarian Gianpaolo Saccarola (who played “The gorilla” the next year in an Antonioni film – whether that was a character name or he was wearing a gorilla suit, it could only be a step up from this movie). Old Mary Freudstein (I assume that’s the woman with the little girl), Teresa Passante, had been in a Kirk Douglas flick called Holocaust 2000 which somehow never shows up on Turner Classic Movies.
With his pink gun and Curious Yogi, Bob prepares for battle: