HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN (1976) Reviews and now free to watch online

 

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‘One day a monstrous evil was unleashed from the most sacred place on earth…’

House of Mortal Sin is a 1976 released British horror film about a deranged priest who murders his parishioners for their moral transgressions: “I was put on this earth to combat sin and I shall use every available means to do so.”

Directed by Pete Walker (House of the Long Shadows; House of Whipcord, Schizo; Frightmare) from a screenplay by David McGillivray (House of Whipcord, Schizo; Satan’s Slave) based on a story by Walker. Also known as The Confessional and The Confessional Murders.

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The film stars Anthony Sharp (InvasionDie Screaming Marianne), Susan Penhaligon (The UncannyPatrick; Dracula BBC, 1977), Stephanie Beacham (The NightcomersDracula A.D. 1972Inseminoid), Norman Eshley and Sheila Keith. As with Walker’s FrightmareAndrew Sachs has a minor role.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“For added box office appeal, the grotesque violence is fleshed out with arbitrary evocations of blighted sexual liaisons. However, the director remains ham-fisted, the performances unfocused rather than maniacal and the script woefully contrived.” The Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia: Horror

” …veteran actor Anthony Sharp does a fine job in the role — he carries a wise and trustworthy stature but plays the darker moments without judgement on his character […] Besides a few slasher scenes, House of Mortal Sin is more interested in building tension slowly through tortured psyches and camera movement. Overall, House of Mortal Sin is a decent drama with a bit of blood and a few shocking ideas.” Battleship Pretension

“The execution scenes are chilling to the core and are perhaps some of the nastiest Walker has filmed. The film’s tone is relentlessly bleak and grim, yet the effective and really quite compelling script by Walker and regular writing partner David McGillivray consistently draws us into the story and further into the dark recesses of one man’s unfolding madness.” Behind the Couch

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“Walker is begging for publicity with this one, but the movie doesn’t earn is rabble-rousing intent, moving forward as a thriller that features some inventive violence, strong performances, and a perfectly acceptable message on human nature, only to lose potency with painful overlength and a bizarre choice to identify the antagonist right away, thus abandoning any hope for a proper mystery.” Blu-ray.com

“Part of the impulse was beyond doubt to make each murder more potentially shocking and offensive than the last, but House of Mortal Sin remains a very solidly constructed thriller/horror movie, featuring some of Walker’s most stylishly shot sequences. Artistically, this was to be the high-watermark of Walker and McGillivray’s work…” Ian Fryer, The British Horror Film: From the Silent to the Multiplex, Fonthill, 2017

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“Acidic black comedy, or typically crass 70s horror flick brought out with the sole aim of shocking a jaded public? The jury’s still out on House of Mortal Sin (aka The Confessional), but you can’t deny that it’s entertaining.” British Horror Films

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“The excess is toned down for some good old-fashioned psychological horror and when the blood does flow, it has more impact for its rarity. Having a great cast helps too – Anthony Sharp and Sheila Keith are superb as the mad priest and his housekeeper, while the ‘young’ generation of Beacham, Penhaligon and Eshley give it a contemporary rather than gothic feel…” Cinedelica

“His [Walker’s] undercurrent of disdain and criticism is at its most acerbic in House of Mortal Sin where the target of his attack is religion – more pointedly ‘Catholicism’. Protagonist Susan Penhaligon sure reminds me of the consummate Brit-Comely-Blonde, pouty, Susan George. House of Mortal Sin has it all – social commentary, horror, gore and a little sex-appeal.” DVD Beaver

“McGillivray’s script is full of inventive ideas which were obviously meant to shock and stir up controversy. Having the villainous murderer a repressed and crazed Catholic priest in modern times brought a new and different kind of monster to the catalog of British horror, and he’s marvelously played by Sharp.” DVD Drive-In

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“Walker is concerned not merely to provide echoes of Psycho and 1940s film noir. As a lapsed Catholic, he clearly has a very personal axe to grind in his presentation of Meldrum’s hypocrisy, achieving a brilliant role reversal for a traditional horror movie prop when Meldrum’s glimmering crucifix, looming out of the dark at Jenny, becomes an object of terror rather than reassurance.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema, Reynolds and Hearn, 2004

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“The acting is strong throughout, and the script does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters; you end up having strong feelings about every character, and seemingly one-dimensional characters (such as the one-eyed housekeeper) turn out to have histories that make you understand (if not approve) their actions. For me, the only time the film really fumbles is when it stoops to horror cliches.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

” …enough to drive a religious person over the brink with anger, I found it black comedy of acidic proportions […] Another grotty suburban masterpiece, it was about as far as Walker could go without being banned…” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear, Creation Books, 1996

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“With The Confessional Murders Walker drives the action forward with that hoary old trick: the heroine that no one believes, but it works a treat here. And, of course, those that don’t believe her get their eventual comeuppances at the hands of the homicidal padre. Walker finishes the film with a typically downbeat ending (and I’m a big fan of these), which neatly mirrors a similar denouement in the same year’s Black Christmas.” Hysteria Lives

“Not every element in the film works smoothly towards its overall effectiveness. For all its daring and its stylistic triumphs – and the ingenious closure of its plot – McGillivray’s screenplay still suffers from some of the structural problems diagnosed at an early stage of its development. The dialogue devotes rather too much time to exposition…” Steve Chibnall, Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker, FAB Press, 1998

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“Definitely a poke in the eye of the Catholic Church, about a demented priest driven to murder his sinful; parishioners in the name of the Lord. Father Xavier is played with sinister delight, his appearance, mannerisms and holier-than-thou pomposity is spot on.” McBastard’s Mausoleum

House of Mortal Sin/The Confessional works reasonably well. In particular, the initial confessional scene where Susan Penhaligon’s vulnerability is pounced upon by Anthony Sharp who forcefully probes deeper to get at her secrets comes across with a psychological tautness. Walker delivers his trademark sensationalistic despatches, which come embedded in a plot that has a strong overarching moral edge.” Moria

“By this point in his career, Walker had managed to cement his arresting style so the film looks quite good […] Acting in the man’s films tended to be stronger than that of many of his peer’s efforts as well and House of Mortal Sin is no streak breaker. Everyone is good with Keith and especially Sharp as the killer priest being real standouts.” Rock! Shock! Pop!

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“Jenny is forced into a “they won’t believe me” plot, which unfortunately incapacitates her for too many of the later scenes, but the way the creepier, suffocating aspects of religion are brought out is bold and effective. As a whole, it’s a callous, low budget and grey-toned work, but stays with the viewer longer than slicker horrors then or since.” The Spinning Image

“The captivating premise is well-executed and maintains a dark interest throughout, supported by interesting performances (especially Sheila Keith as Meldrum’s devoted love). Genre director Walker is genuinely capable of creating gritty atmospherics and adeptly employs intriguing performers to keep the action flowing.” The Terror Trap

” …a disappointment, although it has its moments. Crazed old Catholic priest terrorises a young girl after her confession, while her sister is getting the curate, a young liberal, all hot under the collar. The script relies too much on mild sacrilege for its effects, instead of concentrating on more interesting aspects of religious repression.” Time Out

“This time around, Peter Walker’s excesses seem to exist merely for the sake of excess. Frightmare and House of Whipcord are lurid to be sure, but there is something beyond the sensationalism that House of Mortal Sin lacks. It is difficult to imagine a more vitriolic condemnation of organised religion.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

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“With all the to-ing and fro-ing between director and writer, the problems with the basic concept where never effectively resolved and the action flits around torrid sex drama and giallo–style thriller before suddenly veering into Gothic horror. The whole time, as McGillivray feared, the narrative treads awkwardly upon the precipice of a very black Ealing comedy, with the director’s use of religious artefacts as murder weapons almost bordering on parody.” John Hamilton, X-Cert 2: The British Independent Horror Film 1971 – 1983, Hemlock Books, 2014

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‘House of Walker’ showing:

On November 8th 2014, House of Mortal Sin was shown at a ‘House of Walker’ retrospective organised by Cigarette Burns held at the Barbican Cinema, London.

Interviewed by critic-author Kim Newman before the screening, David McGillivray revealed that he had to study Catholicism to be inspired for the killing methods (a flaming incense burner, a poisoned holy wafer and strangulation by rosary beads) and that his preferred title was Mass Murder. Still embarrassed (although he needn’t be) by his own script, he declined to stay for the showing, which was well-received and prompted spontaneous applause at the end.

David McGillivray Kim Newman House of Mortal Sin Barbican cinema House of Walker

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ten years of terror

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Cast and characters:

Anthony Sharp … Father Xavier Meldrum
Susan Penhaligon … Jenny Welch
Stephanie Beacham … Vanessa Welch
Norman Eshley … Father Bernard Cutler
Sheila Keith … Miss Brabazon
Hilda Barry … Mrs. Meldrum
Stewart Bevan … Terry Wyatt (as Stuart Bevan)
Julia McCarthy … Mrs Davey
John Yule … Robert (as Jon Yule)
Bill Kerr … Mr Davey
Victor Winding … Doctor Gaudio
Jack Allen … Doctor – GP
Kim Butcher … Valerie Davey
Ivor Salter … Gravedigger
Andrew Sachs … Man in Church

Filming locations:

The Green, Richmond, Surrey, England
St James the Less – Pangbourne Hill, Pangbourne, Berkshire, England (exterior shots of the church)
Wayneflete Tower, Esher, Surrey, England (exterior and interior of the priest’s home)
Shot in 1975 from 17th February.

Technical details:

104 minutes
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

Clips:

Full film free to watch online: