In the event of an emergency, run to the nearest carousel

HOUSE OF DEATH

2.5 Stars 1981/18/89m

“He wants their bodies …in pieces.”

A.k.a. Death Screams

Director: David Nelson / Writer: Paul C. Elliott / Cast:  Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Jody Kay, John Kohler, Andria Savio, Kurt Rector, Josh Gamble, Helene Tryon, Mary Fran Lyman, Hans Manship, Monica Boston, Mike Brown, Sharon Alley.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “If his brains were TNT he couldn’t muster a good fart!”


Beware thy spoilers

This junky, but okay Friday the 13th copy starts as all good slasher films should, with a young couple’s lovemaking interrupted by murder. In this instance, they’re somehow doing it on a motorcycle (!?) when some fiend comes along and, it seems in the dim lighting that plagues this production, strangles both with the same noose, before disposing of their bodies in the river.

The plunge of their corpses into water – in flicky slo-mo – is accompanied with an overwrought score that looks like a cheap attempt at a Bond movie credit sequence. Unlike most scratchy-string slasher scores (try saying that five times), it sounds like a whole orchestra was drafted in to provide music for House of Death.

Cut to Anywheresville, USA, where the locals are enjoying the carnival at the end of summer: Highschool coach Neil is sad to see two of his favourite students about to leave for college, shop girl Lilly is… well, not much really; dumpy Sheriff Avery is keeping law, and the usual gaggle of over-aged actors pretend to be the local teen contingent.

Coach Neil takes a shine to Lilly and asks her on a date, much to the chagrin of some random girl (I called her Headband Girl), who jealously covers his car in shaving foam and then wanders away from the crowds, only to be shot in the back with an arrow. She flees, seemingly running away from the carnival, to a disused carousel. Now, I know the first thing I’d do if wounded in such a way would be to seek out the nearest merry-go-round, so she’s clearly a smart girl. Or not, as once in the ‘safety’ of the carousel, it starts turning and someone is able to asphyxiate her with a plastic bag. She dies in about three seconds. See this former Ridiculous Scene O’ the Month here.

For what seems like weeks, we watch the over-aged teens on rides, on the bouncy castle, ferris wheel, in the funhouse… Eventually they decide tonight is right for an end-of-summer party near the lake. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s slow son Casey flits about, adhering to Robert Downey Jr’s speech about ‘going full retard’ in Tropic Thunder. Naturally, he is a major suspect. Lilly is cajoled into attending the camp-out, hoping that Neil will also go. What kind of pot-smokin’, pre-marital-sex-having teens invite their teacher?

A touch of equal opportunity objectification: House of Death has it all!

After an hour, one of the group goes skinny dipping and the bodies of the two pre-credits victims (seen throughout the film floating downstream) collide with her, the killing can finally begin. The others, thinking she’s just left, go to the cemetery to tell ghost stories but get rained out, seeking shelter in an abandoned house. THE house. The one from the title. It finally debuts 73 minutes into the 89 minute film.

There are 16 minutes remaining to kill eight characters, subdue the loon, and roll the credits. Get a move on.

Unlike, say, The Final Terror, the killer does at least shift his ass into gear and swiftly does away with most of them, but it becomes a meta slasher flick, what should’ve been spread over at least 45 minutes is crammed into 14: There’s a beheading, a throat slashing, and one guy dies from both hands being chopped off. Last to go is the town slut, Ramona, who falls through a rotten staircase: As the others try to heave her free, she’s cut in half at the waist.

But wait… Wasn’t the killer outside the front door, literally ten seconds earlier? Yes, but House of Death isn’t bothered about such liberties… Hell, the fucking house only just bothered to show up.

With the good kids and Lilly left, the killer bursts forth and we get maybe ten seconds to work out who it is and why they did it. Lots has been made of the bad edit in this scene, and one earlier, which had us believe said character was dead, but on this viewing, I just about heard the name called out before the guy is taken down with a cut throat, tumble through a second storey glass window, and then an exploded head, courtesy of the just-in-time sheriff.

What gives, House of Death? Don’t ask me, and don’t look for answers in either of the available UK DVD releases, both are cut, despite what the boxes say, and both have been placed on the DVD out of order: For instance, rather than the reels going 1, 2, 3, 4, it goes 1, 2, 4, 3. If you’re a smart cookie, you could re-author it on to a new disc, otherwie just buy American.

“…And nobody had a fucking clue what had just happened.”

So it’s under-lit, badly chopped, and the slasher part of it only lasts a few minutes, but House of Death is similar in tone to Final Exam or The Slumber Party Massacre: it’s just pure stalk n’ slash silliness. Had the mystery element been amped up and the editor been a little harsher in the early scenes, it could be a minor cult classic.

Blurbs-of-interest: Several actors from this film were also in the coma-inducing Christian propaganda flick A Day of Judgment.

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