Tag Archive: horror film


An absolute supernova of a bad film, this Filmirage production manages to top the company’s usual output (including, lest we forget, Troll 2) by roping in the dubious talents of Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff. Giving the former an obligatory possession scene and allowing the latter to adlib to embarrassing effect, the usual delights of Aristide Massacessi’s horror productions – overlit studio interiors, bewildered no-name American actors, badly-translated Italian dialogue, gloopy effects – are here dunked in an enormous vat of fondue designed to delight lovers of 80s cheese.

The Hoff!

Filmirage – an Italian production company usually associated with low-rent erotic thrillers, terrible horror films and gob-smackingly awful dramas – here jumps on the Evil Dead bandwagon. Raimi’s films were released in Italy under the titles La Casa 1 & 2 and the company follows in the grand tradition of Italian exploitation by simply appropriating the title for some unrelated sequels. Hence Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1988) became La Casa 3 and this film – released in international territories as Witchcraft became La Casa 4. Aside from a residential setting – something that could be said to be true of the majority of features – and plots which revolve around demonic forces and bodily possession, the films bear no similarity with the hyperkinetic Evil Dead franchise, but Laurenti’s film has a manic charm of its own.

Pea soup alert!

The film’s bears a script credit forAmerican screenwriter Harry Spaulding – who, curiously, penned a 1964 film entitled Witchcraft – but the dialogue and story bears all the hallmarks of a cheap Italian genre production, with the frequently confused-looking US cast spouting inane, nonsensical lines while a series of barely-connected events move the plot from one bizarre set-piece to another. The story isolates three groups of people on a Pacific island during a storm: a young woman studying witchcraft and the origins of a house on the island and her photographer boyfriend (the Hoff himself); a dysfunctional family, including a pregnant Linda Blair and a precocious young boy, who are interested in buying the property; and the estate agents, including a woman played by the then Mrs Hasslehoff – Catherine Hickland – who would in future go on to marry a man called, I kid you not, Michael Knight.  Over the course of the evening, the assembled cast are sprited away by the spirit of the previous owner – a Garbo-like foreign actress – to a cut-price Hades where they are subjected to a variety of latex-rupturing effects. Blair is possessed so she can redo her Exorcist role, the Hoff gets his shirt off and his girlfriend wanders the house reading random passages from a supposedly ancient German text which may hold the key to foiling the resurrection of the witch-actress via Blair’s baby.

Going to hell

Apart from the sheer joy of watching Hasslehoff and Blair on screen together (for trash-mavens, a pairing suerly on a par with De Niro and Pacino), the film delivers the cracked goods in spades. Witness, for example, the majesty of the scenes where characters are transported to the evil dimension by standing still and waving their arms while a swirling red graphic is overlayed on their screaming mugs. Or the evil dimension itself, which appears to have been built by an Italian set designed in around 3 mins out of some 2-by-4 and some black bin bags. Some of the special effects are pleasingly gloopy, especially the demise of the father, as the stabbing of a voodoo doll causes ruptures in a series of vains. The film bears Filmirage’s usual cruel sense of black humour, with the mother with her mouth sewn shut, hung in the chimney to be burned alive by her family.

Elsewhere budget restrictions mean that a plot which requires its cast to be stranded by a ferocious storm, has no actual shots of said weather – with a placidly undulating sea hardly justifying the lack of rescue. The father of the young estate agent spends much of the film arguing with local law enforcement to stage a recovery attempt, which finally pays off when a helicopter is procured. The subsequent scene, where the father who has been passionately arguing that his son may be in danger, meekly gives up the chase when the house shows no sign of occupation, is just one of the examples of the twisted logic of Filmirage’s output. The actor – one timer Frank Cammarato – is one of the badly-dubbed non-US cast members. It’s unfortunate that heroine Leslie Cumming is not also dubbed, as her mumbling, incoherent delivery renders much of her dialogue unintelligible and makes her scenes with Hasslehoff even more one-sided. Perhaps she was intimidated.

One of the first Spanish films to be shot in English for the international market, this first theatrical outing for director Serrador must have been an influence on Dario Argento, sharing several striking similarities with Suspiria (1977). It’s an incredibly distinctive and impressive effort in its own right, however.

A young girl and her guardian arrive at a remote French chateau – a private school for “troubled” young girls, run with more than a firm hand by a strict governess and her coterie of favoured senior students. Left to settle in, Teresa is quickly introduced to the quirks of the institution, which include a creepy handyman, the local lusty woodsman and the governess’s overprotected son Luis, who has secret relationships with several of the girls and longs for escape. When the most recent of Luis’ girlfriends disappears – presumed absconded – Teresa becomes increasingly suspicious of the governess and begins to be targetted by her favoured pupil Irene.

Governess and guardian in the greenhouse

The plot, then, is very similar to Suspiria, but in most other ways La Residencia is a very different film. It is shot in scope, but unlike Argento’s starkly lit film, Serrador and his immensely talented DoP Manuel Berenguer, give the film a subtle, pastel-textured look, which imparts a nice tonal shift to the gothic night-time scenes. The scenes set in the greenhouse, in particular, are a riot of colour.

A similar departure from Argento is the performance of the international cast who are uniformly excellent, from the experienced Lilli Palmer to Mary Maude – a minor British television actress who appears in a couple of genre films in the 1970s but otherwise seems not to have fulfilled the promise vividly shown here. As Irene – the favoured girl – she is alternately terrifying and heartbreaking, as she bullies Teresa before finding that her position doesn’t exempt her from the threat lurking in the dark corridors.


The death of Isabelle

Essentially a gothic mystery, the film does contain a couple of nasty murders, which are shot with a skill and sense of style that points to Serrador’s inate understanding of the mechanics of visual horror. Following this film’s release, he made several other genre films – most famously, Quien Puede Matar a un Nino? (1976) – but is perhaps most known in his own country for the groundbreaking TV series Historias para no Dormir which he hosted and wrote for in the manner of Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock (and, of course, Dario Argento, who presented La Porta sul Buio in 1973). The slow-motion stabbing of one of the girls in the greenhouse at night, which is intercut with blood on white roses as the soundtrack slowly slides to a halt is expertly rendered and must have been quite shocking for the time.

The governess forced to view her handiwork

The film also contains some daring sexual content, with the suggestive lesbian relationship between the governess and her charges. After one girl is punished by whipping the governess mops the blood from her back and bends over briefly to kiss the girl’s wounds. The girl later removes the smock the girls wear to protect their modesty in the communal showers and taunts the governess. There are hints that the governess has an impure relationship with her son Luis, who is himself depicted as a voyeur. The girls either submit to the advances of the governess to gain favour – as Irene has done – or content themselves with Luis or the regular visits from the local woodsman, the privilege to go to the woodshed being decided by drawing lots. As one girl meets with him, Serrador focuses in on the other girls performing needlecraft in class, their looks of boredom and frustration building with the sounds from the woodshed until one girl symbolically pricks her finger, drawing blood.

If the murders themselves were not shocking enough for 1969, the film’s ending with its mix of incest and necrophilia must have been overwhelming and it still packs a punch today. The film’s high production values, excellent camerwork and strong performances combine to convey a sense of a prestige production which little prepares the viewer for the exploitative content which follows.

A major achievement in the horror genre and a film which urgently needs a properly restored release on DVD.

A strange mix of hypnotic mood piece and all-out zombie movie from the people later responsible for Howard the Duck, this has long been a staple of public domain collections and early streaming sites. This review is based on the revalatory DVD from Code Red, which restores a film which relies on careful composition to its proper ratio.


A young woman travels to a remote town in search of her artist father, whose letters to her have become increasingly deranged. Arriving at his deserted beachside house, she sets off on a search which brings her into contact with an aristocratic drifter and his two female companions, the suspicious and aloof townfolk and constant reminders of her father and the bizarre circumstances of his disappearance.

Arletty wanders her father's mansion

This is a film dominated by a central location – the home of the missing father is a cavernous mansion which is both sparsely furnished and claustrophobically-decorated with a large number of murals. These paintings – several of which contain threatening figures which peer out at the viewer – play with the geometry of the locations in a Caligari-esque way, with characters passing through impossible spaces and threatening to become lost in the mise-en-scene.

These early scenes are possessed of a dream-like, deliberately-paced atmosphere which recalls similar lost-girl genre films such as Carnival of Souls. However, once Arletty encounters the drifter Thom and his two female familiars, the film encounters a series of set-pieces as the true nature of the townsfolk is revealed. Firstly, in perhaps the films most famous scene, Anitra Ford is hunted by raw meat-devouring townies in a late-night grocery store – a nightmareish scene which uses the bright, familiar setting as a spectacular counterpoint to the horror.

A late night buffet for the townsfolk

Then, the boyish Joy Bang is stranded in a cinema which gradually fills with the zombie-like denizens, who sit silently watching the film or turn to look at her with bleeding eyeballs. Both of these scenes stand alone from the main narrative and, indeed, the almost hermetically-sealed atmosphere of the mansion. The character’s are almost literally trapped in this central location and leaving it can only trigger death – or at least a living death. Arletty’s father eventually returns to tie-up the casually-developed plt strands and threaten an act of infanticide, following a bizarre scene which sees the artist smear himself in blue and red paint.

Arletty's father fails the Blue Man Group audition

Surrounded by the portentous monochromatic figures in the murals the father staggers towards Arletty as a multicoloured aberration, before she despatches him in a burst of flame. Shortly after, she mistakes Thom for one of the townspeople and stabs him in the arm – an act which dooms him to drown in the ocean as the frantically swim for safety from the rampaging population. Arletty herself is saved and delivered to the asylum from which she has told the tale in flashback. As the film ends she warns the people of the cities that the contagion is spreading as she paints in the sunshine of the asylum garden.