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John’s Horror Corner: Ghosthouse (1988), the quintessential random B-movie

November 27, 2013

MY CALL:  Despite all the nonsense, this was loads of fun to watch.  The gloriously random elements and satisfying gore made for not a dull moment.  MOVIES LIKE Ghosthouse:  Some other deliciously random movies include Nightwish (1990), Prince of Darkness (1987), Manitou (1978), Deadly Blessing (1981) and The Kindred (1987).

Directed by the gore visionary Umberto Lenzi (as Humphrey Humbert; Black Demons, Nightmare City, Cannibal Ferox), this most quintessential B-horror film does what most never dared to do: show us what’s happening.

No time is wasted on gore.  NONE AT ALL.  Within minutes we see a mutilated cat, a hatchet cleaves into a man’s skull (which, despite dated and cheap effects, we actually get to see it happen),a woman’s eye is mutilated and we see (again, we actually get to see this happen) a woman get stabbed in the throat at a most irregular angle.  KUDOS, Umberto!  The gore is glorious and, despite the low budget, the effects team and director were rather cavalier about giving us the gorehound satisfaction of seeing these entertaining death blows instead of a shot by shot montage of a hand with a knife,  the victim screaming, the knife being swung, and a splash of blood on the wall or the dead body after the fact.  The deaths may be simple, but a good deal of care clearly went into the execution.

This gory mayhem all begins after Young Henrietta is locked in the basement with her creepy clown doll as punishment for slitting her cat’s throat.  We later learn–as part of a “major” plot reveal halfway through the movie–that the little girl died.

Now I call this an archetypal B-movie.  And no B-movie is complete without a zany plot.  A CB radio junkie hears a most disturbing message followed by the weirdest music (like carnival music perverted and contorted to horror), thinking a murder has been committed over the airways he locates the signal using his 80s technology (really!?!), then drags his girlfriend there to investigate.  For the sake of a respectable body count, they encounter some twenty-somethings.  Oh, and that radio message we heard earlier was from the future.  Talk about a B-movie plot.

Besides the cheesy plot, this movie has everything any B-horror should:

1)  An evil clown doll.  And, you guessed it, it strangles someone just like in Poltergeist (1982).  The doll plays a role in the story as well.

2)  An evil little girl.  This girl appears several times and gives our protagonists the stank eye from beyond the grave.

3)  A violent escaped mental patient who doubles as the disturbed caretaker-type role.

4)  The token black guy.  This phenomenon swept 80s movies.  For whatever reason they could never seem to cast a black person in an ensemble without giving them some weird role in the story–which often involved being the first to die.

5)  Twisted theme music.  It sounds demonic children’s music with a disturbing sort of cooing/mumbling as if by an evil toddler.  Effectively, we hear it regularly throughout the movie.

6)  Lots of gore with fun kills.  Often accompanying this is finding body parts placed in silly locations for no logical reason other than my own entertainment.  For example, in a running washing machine, seen through the window in the door.  On a totally random note, someone is cut in half by a guillotine blade in the attic.  Not a guillotine, just the blade…hanging from the ceiling until it conveniently fell (“triggered” by the script) on its victim.  Another person falls through the floor into what I can best interpret to be boiling milk or Elmer’s paste.  This is exactly the kind of random we find in The Amityville Horror (1979), perhaps after which this pit of “boiling white whatever” was modeled.

7)  And inexplicably weird effects.  Throughout the movie glass objects expand and explode.  No clue why.  They just do.  I guess that was scary in the 80s.  A camper vehicle starts shaking with someone inside and a pillow explodes creating–what I can only assume by the reaction of the actress to be scripted as–a terrifying scene with feathers everywhere.  Again, no clue what to make of it.

8)  A graveyard with a subterranean crypt.  Just because, right?

As if begging for something terrible to happen, they leave two of the scared women alone at the house–after one of their friends dies and another is targeted with attempted murder–while the other go find the police.  People keep dying and these people just can’t seem to stay away from the house.  WHY!?!?!  Why are you so obsessed with “solving” whatever mystery belies this house, it’s evil clown doll and the smug, stank-eyeing little ghost girl?

Despite all the nonsense, a deplorable script, countless plot holes and horrid acting, Ghosthouse was loads of fun to watch.  The gloriously random elements and satisfying gore made for not a dull moment.

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