Bloodbath at the House of Death

Bloodbath at the House of Death (Ray Cameron, 1984)

Eight years after a night of multiple murders, in which all 18 occupants of an isolated business man’s retreat – and girls summer camp – are brutally dispatched in a variety of inventive ways, Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Kenny Everett) and his comely assistant Dr. Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson) assemble a group of paranormal investigators at the ‘House of Death’ in the hope of finding the truth behind the mysterious goings on that have become the stuff of local legend.

Ably assisted by a motley crew of well known faces from British TV, including Gareth Hunt (‘The New Avengers’) and Don Warrington (‘Rising Damp’) camping it up and sending out all manner of homoerotic signals to each other, Dr Mandeville’s team set up base in the house and plan their approach to the investigation over a night time dinner in the cobweb strewn kitchen, feasting on the sole piece of food they could find in the house – a giant meat pie that glows in the dark…

Scripted by TV comedy writer extraordinaire Barry Cryer, who also wrote for Kenny Everett’s TV shows and video specials, the perceived aim of the game was to take a leaf out of the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker book of filmic comedy, with the jokes and sight gags flying fast and furious throughout the films 90 minute running time. But as is usually the norm with these kinds of films, there’s a lot of humour that falls flat on its face eliciting groans and cringes rather than guffaws of laughter. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy and it’s an especially entertaining treat to see Vincent Price having a whale of a time as The Sinster Man. In fact, the best laughs of the entire film are to be had when Vincent’s onscreen, superb stuff and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Though the script’s a bit of a let down and a lot of the gags don’t work, the film is really well made on the whole, and at times has the look and feel of an Amicus or Hammer film. Slow tracking shots through the cobwebbed house look really atmospheric and all credit must go to the cinematographers Brian West and Dusty Miller whose previous work was on the immensely successful TV shows ‘The Professionals’ and ‘The Sweeney’.

Nucleus Films has pulled out all the stops in terms of finding the best elements for their DVD release and has utilised the vault negatives to create an absolutely pristine 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) transfer. The original mono soundtrack is included plus an all-new 5.1 digital surround mix. A bumper selection of extra features comes with the package too, with a couple of trailers – English and US versions – an image gallery, featuring behind the scenes stills, a pdf of the full shooting script and a very informative 20 minute featurette entitled ‘Running The Bloodbath’

Consisting mainly of recent interview footage of executive producers Stuart Donaldson and Laurence Myers, peppered with vintage footage of Kenny Everett on a promotional junket for the film’s Australian release, this short but welcome feature covers all the bases as regards the behind the scenes goings on and the limitations of shooting on such a small budget. Everett is pretty forthcoming when asked about the disastrous British theatrical run, openly admitting it was but taking it all in his stride whilst doing so, not letting the chance to send the whole situation up slip by. All in all you come away with a deeper sense of appreciation for the film after hearing about the effort that went into producing it on such a shoestring and it’s also great to see that none of the guys interviewed seem to really regret making a film that bombed so hard at the box office on it’s initial release, they’re just so pleased to have made a movie, especially one that has Vincent Price in it!

The Nucleus release is sure to become a big seller since the films army of adoring fans have been screaming for a DVD release for years, but the film’s camp and kitsch sensibility will also endear it to the majority of cult fans. All in all, Nucleus has pulled out all the stops to create a stellar package for this minor cult favourite.

(Jonny Redman)