Thursday, November 7, 2013


Paul Harrison, 1974
Starring: John Carradine, John Ireland, Faith Domergue

In the wake of The Exorcist (1973) and other mainstream horror, there are dozens of forgotten films from the ‘60s and ‘70s that were briefly shown in theaters and on television, but were neglected in favor of their bigger budget, more popular brethren. Over the last few years, many of these are seeing the light of day thanks to distributors that specialize in genre films. B-grade satanic horror film about a film crew making a movie in a haunted house, The House of Seven Corpses (1974), is one such entry, recently released on Blu-ray by Severin Films.

In an old mansion where seven murder occurred, a director (John Ireland) is attempting to film a movie about the events of the house, which included satanic rituals. The caretaker, Edgar Price (John Carradine), begs them to be careful, because they do not really understand what occurred. They find an old book in the house (a Latin translation of the The Tibetan Book of the Dead) and use the rituals in it for the film. Strange things begin to happen and the lead actress’s (Faith Domergue) cat is killed. What they don’t realize is that the ritual has summoned up a murderous ghoul from the family cemetery and members of the cast and crew are bumped off one at a time. 

Directed by Paul Harrison (H.R. Pufnstuf), House of Seven Corpses is essentially saved by performances from prolific actor and horror regular John Carradine, John Ireland (The Asphalt Jungle), and aging scream queen Faith Domergue (Cult of the Cobra, This Island Earth). Together, these three bring a gravity and seriousness to the film, though they also have some amazingly bad dialogue. Hilariously, there are some crew members within the cast. Most of them step in to briefly play victims, such as Ron Garcia (cinematographer on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), while others have actual roles, such as Ron Foreman (production designer on Rocky III) as the make up artist.

The script makes very little sense and doesn’t bother trying to explain the surprise ending, which I personally find kind of charming. Much of the film is made up of people wandering the spooky mansion and spookier grounds at night, looking concerned, frightened, and/or drunk. The low budget and film quality make this feel like a made-for-television film at times and the “we’re probably reading from cue cards” style of acting certainly enhances this feeling. There is simply no way to deny that this is a bottom of the barrel B horror film, but it manages to be charming despite its many flaws.

House of Seven Corpses definitely succeeds where atmosphere is concerned. The film was shot in the Utah Historical Society, a lovely mansion that was the former home of the state’s Governor. Full of rich details and with an undeniable air of creepiness, the set takes the film much further than a soundstage would have. There are also some chilling moments and the opening satanic ritual is delightful. It’s a little irritating to find out that it’s all just a film within a film, but House of Seven Corpses at least tries to make the most of what it has to work with. 

Overall the film is not a particularly memorable venture - between the ‘60s and ‘70s alone, satanic rituals were basically the bread and butter of American horror - and it is only recommended for fans of low budget horror or occult cinema. It’s still fun to see Carradine vs. Ireland compete for hammiest actor in an early ‘70s horror film and there are some great set pieces, spooky atmosphere.

The new AVC encoded 1080p transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 looks incredible compared to the previous VHS and DVD releases. With that said, there is simply no way to ignore this a ‘70s B movie and there’s plenty of age damage, including scratches, damage on the outside of the frame for part of the film, and reel change marks. The color, which looks far brighter than earlier prints, is still noticeably faded, though the grain looks very natural. Keep in mind that this was a dark, poorly lit production with a fair amount of soft focus. Regardless, it is the best version available and anyone going out of their way to watch House of the Seven Corpses is probably going to be bothered by these issues. 

The available audio is a lossless DTS-HD Master Mono track that sounds decent, certainly better than past releases of the film. Overall the film is quiet with some notable issues where dialogue fades in and out and it is occasionally difficult to hear. There is no obvious static or age damage. There’s a very creepy, effective score made up of some original compositions from Robert Emenegger (also a UFO expert!) and reused tracks from The Outer Limits.

Surprisingly, Severin scraped up a few extras, including an audio track with Gary Kent, associate producer on House of Seven Corpses, and Lars Nilsen from the Alamo Drafthouse. Also included is an entertaining half an hour long interview with John Carradine from 1983 and a trailer for the film. 

Severin Films has really outdone themselves with this Blu-ray release, restoring a forgotten film and even throwing in some extras. If you love occult horror or just weird ‘70s B movies, House of Seven Corpses comes recommended. Either way it is a lot of fun and there’s plenty to laugh at, as well as a few moments of genuine chills enhanced by a a score far better than I would ever have expected. 

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