The Haunted House Of Horror (1969)

I wasn’t sure how to write this review, but after I did a bit of reading I found out that the producers had no idea about how to make this film. Half of it is an interesting proto-slasher, directed by Michael Haworth and stating a giggle of up-and-coming stars of British Cinema (and Frankie Avalon on his way down). The other half is an interesting drama, using the backdrop of swinging London and mostly the same cast. Sadly, you can see the welds.

“Will someone please hurry up and invent the 70s”

The drama starts well, being a story of a bunch of bright, young things living and loving around the late 60s Carnaby Street fashion scene. Whilst none of them are especially terrible people, they all have that late 20’s malaise of realising that constantly being out partying might be becoming a bit old for them. Richard O’Sullivan, Gina Warwick, and Jill Haworth are some of the faces you might recognise. There are petit bourgeoisie disputes, misunderstandings, and conflicts, but everyone feels likable and realistic.

Side note: Jan Holder’s body type is never brought up, and Peggy is presented as a desirable character. Which is nice.

Then, because the party is a bit crap, they decide to head off into the middle of nowhere and investigate an abandoned psychiatric hospital that was allegedly the scene of a series of grisly murders. It was that or some mediocre quiche and perfunctory orgying. Here’s where you’d expect the slasher to start, but instead the drama continues as the group wanders around the house and do some perfectly acceptable character acting.

“Don’t worry, he won’t be long”

Around the hour mark the horror kicks in, and it’s pretty quality stuff. The blood flies wild and free, in a frenzy of cinematic overkill. As quickly and as suddenly as it turned up it’s gone again, and that somehow adds to it’s effect. And then, we’re back to the drama as everyone whose not been brutally murdered decides to hide it all from the police as it’s better to let a psychopath run around free than to answer a couple of questions.

*inhales through teeth* “Well, that’s gonna cost ya”

This situation, combined with George Sewell doing an excellent job as a thoroughly repulsive ex-lover who can’t take a hint, is the main dramatic vehicle for the next half hour as the police start investigating the sudden disappearance. Its all tense moments of paranoia and monologues about the terrors of life and the evils of mistrust. Again the cast do a fantastic job with what they are given, and you can feel the pathos growing for them.

Did I mention that many of the shots are quite lovely?

Eventually, the obligatory return to the scene of the crime happens, and the killer is revealed. The reveal is impressive, as they keep it ambiguous as to the killer and the reason right up until they have the knife in their hands and the run-around finale kicks off. That is unless you know 60s queer coding; in which case you’ll work it all out about halfway through the film.

“Well give it long enough and it’ll be back in fashion, I’m sure of it!”

So, this all sounds mostly positive, but it ignores all the mucking about that puts the pacing in the “needs to try harder” bucket. The constant pivot between blasé horror and serious drama means it never manages to get going with either and fails at both, to the point that the horror part practically gets in the way of the dramatic realistic moments.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

Had it either stayed in the house and been a who-dunite slaughter-fest, or kept the murder brief and focused on the impact of the death on the social group, then we would have had a great bit of cinema. Instead, we have dramatic bits constantly signalling that the blood will soon be flowing and horror bits that want you to know it’ll be back to the serious stuff soon enough. The internal conflict, and the time spent trying to balance them out, wears the viewer down, and it frustratingly slips into the Trash pile.

The Raggedyman

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