Monday, 24 November 2014

House of the Living Dead (1974)

It's rarely a good sign when a movie has multiple titles, and this one has at least four.  The one above, plus Curse of the Dead, Doctor Maniac and Kill, Baby, Kill.  Ironically, any of the latter three titles are a better fit for the movie than the one I saw it under, which makes it doubly-confounding that House of the Living Dead is apparently the original title.

There's the kernel of a solid enough made-for-TV period thriller in here ... like a kind of "Downton Abbey with Necromancy".  Which is a thing I would watch.  ITV, get on that would you?

Alas, the execution in this film falls far short of the potential.  The fault lies squarely on the script.  It's true that some of the acting - at least from the secondary characters - isn't the best, but not even great delivery could save the clunky and unconvincing dialogue that gets trotted out here.  I mean, we're talking about a film where the police are convinced by the very impressive logic of "I can't explain how I know, I just do".

Filmed and set in South Africa, the film concerns itself with the master of a plantation and his fiancee, who is newly arrived on the ship from Britain. Now, our leading man has a near identical brother who recently suffered a terrible accident and "never" leaves his room, where he conducts strange scientific experiments.  "Never" is in inverted commas because he's actually frequently seen out and about in the fields or prowling the house at night, despite the claims of his brother and mother that he doesn't do so, and their refusal to let anyone into his room to see him.

If you give that precis more than a few moments' thought you'll probably work out the film's main twist, though as I was watching the film I got distracted by the "strange medical theories" and "unnatural experiments" that kept getting mentioned, leading me to expect a slightly different revelation.  Those elements actually turned out to be almost irrelevant to what was going on though.  In fact, you could eliminate all the intimations of supernaturalism and mad science and still tell practically the same story (you'd have to make like one tiny change to the film).  And that's probably the biggest headscratcher of all.  Bringing those elements in probably put off a lot of people who would have watched a straight-up period piece, while those they might attract would be disappointed with how little they actually mattered.

Ultimately, we get a talky, clunky melodrama with only a few hints of the macabre.  Skippable.

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