‘Step by diabolical step, you’ll be driven to the brink of insanity!’
House of Terror – aka House of Blood – is a 1972 American horror thriller film, directed by Sergei Goncharoff and starring Jenifer Bishop, Jacquelyn Hyde and Mitchell Gregg.
The screenplay came courtesy of Tony Crechales, who also wrote the William Shatner thriller film Impulse (1974) and the Ray Milland/Carrie Snodgrass horror thriller The Attic (1980).
Kindly multi-millionaire, Emmett Kramer (Mitchell Gregg, with startling white hair/black ‘tache combo) employs a pretty nurse, Jennifer (Jenifer Bishop), to help him care for his mentally frail shrew of a wife, Marsha (Jacquelyn Hyde, looking like an absurdist caricature of Bette Davis in charcoal).
Also in the luxurious house is his housekeeper of many years, Norma (Ireene Byatt) who was struck dumb by a tragic family accident and grimaces throughout at anything and everything. Kramer is losing patience with his wife as, after a string of nurses employed to look after her, she also takes an instant dislike to Jennifer who she paranoidly accuses of having an affair with her husband.
One night, Jennifer is alarmed to find the mad crone dead in the bathtub having committed suicide. Stricken with grief, Kramer asks the nurse to stay a while, which is code for meet you upstairs in five minutes.
Out of nowhere, a minor subplot, which reminds the viewer that Jennifer is actually married (to Mark, played by Arell Blanton), suddenly explodes, with Mark suggesting in no uncertain terms, that with Marsha out of the way, if Jennifer married Kramer, a divorce in the not too distant future would make them both sickeningly rich.
Eventually convinced this is a splendid idea, he changes his mind and insists it would be far better to bump him off and take the cash instead; Jennifer is less than impressed. Mark moves into the house on the pretence that he’s Jennifer’s brother.
So far so good, but Emmett’s sister-in-law, Dolores (also played by Hyde, now merely looking like a brassier version of Bette Davis) crashes the party and slyly reveals to Mark that she knows her sister didn’t commit suicide but that he murdered her to progress his plans. Rather than being appalled, she applauds his plot and volunteers to help for a cut of the booty.
Inept plans to kill him, including snipping his car’s brake cables, and the appearance of the dead Marsha in the middle of the night (looking less dead than we last saw her), drive Jennifer closer to Emmett and she eventually cries foul of the plan and in a ‘dramatic scene’, tells him of the danger, leading to more death, twists and well, the end of the film.
With decidedly TV movie-style production values, alarmingly amateur camera work and stilted, badly paced direction, House of Terror (and what a lazy title, by the way) isn’t going to be anybody’s favourite film but Hyde’s performance is fun and the mystery of Gregg’s hair dilemma is intriguing.
The plot is the same as virtually every episode of Murder, She Wrote and has an almost unbelievable ‘is that it?’ twist ending; the deaths are few and far between and are, whilst not bloodless, tame. There are some shocking (in the rubbish sense) instances of peeping eyes from behind paintings in an attempt to create tension and suspicion but they are misplaced, ham-fisted and just plain silly.
The best element of the film is the spooky, though unfitting score from journeyman composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava who worked on dozens of low-budget horror films, from Grave of the Vampire to The Town that Dreaded Sundown to Mausoleum. On the plus side, Angela Lansbury doesn’t appear once.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
“The cabined and confined atmosphere wouldn’t be so objectionable if the romantic-cum-homicidal interests of the characters weren’t so dully elaborated or stiffly performed, and if the film weren’t so insistent on moving out into its Hollywood and Las Vegas locales.” Richard Combs, BFI Monthly Film Bulletin
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Alternate release titles:
House of Blood (USA: alternate DVD title)
Casa del terrore (Italy)
La casa del terror (Spain)
The Five at the Funeral (working title)