Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Mausoleum (1983) review


Marjoe Gortner (Oliver Farrell), Bobbie Bresee (Susan Walker Farrell), Norman Burton (Dr. Simon Andrews), Maurice Sherbanee (Ben), LaWanda Page (Elsie), Laura Hippe (Aunt Cora Nomed), Sheri Mann (Dr. Roni Logan)

The Short Version: Bobbie Bresee's first major acting gig is a ridiculous B horror-gore flick that has her either wearing little clothing or lots of monster makeup. She's the film's best attribute aside from the monster suit with the masticating mammaries. The 'barely-there'  plot plays second-banana to John Carl Buechler's rubber appliances and splatter FX. Then there's former child-evangelist Marjoe Gortner and LaWanda Page of SANFORD AND SON fame as added incentive for this production-plagued picture. If it weren't for the snapping demon breasts, MAUSOLEUM would likely have stayed dead and buried. 

A familial curse possesses the first born daughters of the Nomed (demon spelled backwards) lineage when an ancient demonic force is released from the family mausoleum. Haunted from when she was a little girl, Susan Farrell undergoes a literal transformation that leaves a trail of corpses till the demon is sent back to Hell.

Low on plot but high on makeup FX, MAUSOLEUM (1983) dangles precariously from the lower rung of the demonic possession sub-genre. It's not as brutally grim as THE INCUBUS (1981), nor as garishly over the top as AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION (1982) and nowhere near as well made as either of those two. 
MAUSOLEUM is closer in style to similar, middle-tier genre fare like EVILSPEAK (1981) and SUPERSTITION (1982) in that spectacularly creative sleaze makes for a memorable experience. It doesn't make much sense (what the hell is going on in the inexplicably confusing final scene?!), but this cheap tale of a devil-cursed sepulcher manages to hold your attention due to a surprisingly spunky performance by Bobbie Bresee; along with a horde of splatter effects and rubber monster transformations.
Feeling more like an Italian horror movie than an American one, MAUSOLEUM's cryptic script is as threadbare as Ms. Bresee's clothing. Aside from the aforementioned, and numerous rubber creature effects and splattery gore from the late John Carl Buechler, there's little else holding it together. In its defense, MAUSOLEUM's cumbersomeness was possibly due in part to its troubled production history.
According to articles at the time, the original story was written by Katherine Rosenwink, an author who would later work on some episodes of the hit TV series ALICE (1976-1985). The rights to Ms. Rosenwink's story ended up in the hands of a man named Morton Green. Reportedly, Mr. Green signed a contract giving the rights to producers Jerry Zimmerman and Robert Barich in exchange for the opportunity to direct the movie himself for a salary of $60,000. Shortly after filming began in late February 1981, Green was let go. He subsequently sued the two men for breach of contract and civil fraud. On top of that, both Zimmerman and Barich were arrested, along with others, for separate crimes involving grand theft and conspiracy to cheat and defraud. 
Yet another lawsuit surfaced after the film was finally released in the summer of 1983 from Michael Zide over non-payment of a $30,000 loan to Zimmerman's and Barich's production company Western International Pictures in July of 1982. Zide was acting as a representative for them through his Producers Service of Woodland Hills and was reportedly contracted to receive percentages of the theater rental profits and monies received by Western International Pictures. The various suits ran up into the millions and included other companies as defendants like the film's distributor Motion Picture Marketing. All this trouble over a movie that likely only cost a few hundred-thousand dollars. It's amazing the picture saw completion.

At some point Barich was out and Michael Franzese, then a mob boss for the Colombo crime family, became co-executive producer along with Jerry Zimmerman. Franzese would later serve in the capacity as a producer on the revenge film favorite SAVAGE STREETS (1984). MAUSOLEUM would be the only motion picture credits known for both Zimmerman and Barich. Moreover, Barich is also credited as a co-writer and the film's cinematographer. Actually, the photography is one of the film's few attributes, with a number of sequences possessing a Bava-esque visual style.

Making this story even more peculiar, according to Buechler on the DVD/Blu-ray, Michael Dugan (also a DP) wasn't actually the director calling the shots, but Robert Barich. Dugan had earlier helmed the Sea World set kiddie flick, SUPER SEAL (1976) starring Sterling Holloway (the voice of Winnie the Pooh).
Previously a music teacher and Playboy Bunny before becoming an actress, MAUSOLEUM was Bobbie Bresee's first theatrical feature. Prior to this she had small roles in several TV shows before being handed the lead role in her horror debut where she goes above and beyond the flimsy material she had to work with. It's an exploitation movie after all, so most aren't looking for technical achievements; only cheap thrills and MAUSOLEUM has an abundance of them. 
Despite what some reviews may say, Bresee delivers a surprisingly effective performance playing the happy homemaker suffering from a case of demonic possession. She throws herself into the part and frequently throws off her clothes, too. 
Drawing comparisons to THE EXORCIST (1973) isn't out of the question since MAUSOLEUM takes some cues from the 1973 trendsetter. Instead of a bed-ridden Linda Blair spouting obscenities and slowly succumbing to the Devil inside, Bresee goes into hellspawn mode whenever angered or seducing gardeners and grocery delivery boys.

Bresee owns the movie that, in all likelihood, would be nearly unwatchable without her. The actress takes the material very seriously, even though the movie is unmistakably stupid throughout. When she kills the gardener, for example, she fully transforms into the monster for the first time. But instead of simply clawing her victim to death, she offs him with a small garden rake instead. Bresee appeared in a few other horror pictures but unfortunately, she never attained major Scream Queen status. 
Her co-star, the usually reliable Marjoe Gortner, just seems to have taken the job to collect a paycheck. A former evangelist, Gortner is subdued compared to some of his other film work. His rowdy lead role in the little seen WHEN YOU COMING BACK, RED RYDER? (1979) is one of the most quotable movies ever made. He played the energetic hero in AIPs FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and Lynda Carter's crazed criminal boyfriend in BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1976). This role doesn't require he deliver a manic performance, he just doesn't seem to have his heart in this one.
LaWanda Page, Aunt Esther from the hit comedy series SANFORD AND SON (1972-1977),  plays the housekeeper. She's in a handful of scenes and, if you're already familiar with her classic SANFORD AND SON character, the entertainment factor in MAUSOLEUM goes up a few notches. A world-traveled dancer and comedienne, her comedy style was hilarious if filthily funny. If you're only familiar with her as Aunt Esther, you should check out her comedy routines.

Highly publicized at the time in all your finer horror periodicals for the demon-breasted monster suit, Buechler's work is just as rubbery looking as other movies he worked on; the GHOULIES series and TROLL (1986) being two of the most popular. Some of his best work appeared in movies like RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986) and DOLLS (1987), all for director Stuart Gordon. He directed a number of features, including the near bloodless FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD (1988); a tired sequel but one that had the best Jason makeup of the entire series. Sadly, Buechler died March 18th, 2019 aged 66.

The occasional atmospheric set-piece and colorful photography really pop on this 4K restoration from Vinegar Syndrome; while the gore is another saving grace, and just as messy as the movie is. One of the weakest films of its sub-genre, MAUSOLEUM nonetheless sustains itself in large part to the Scream Queen-worthy performance of Bobbie Bresee. It's a shame it didn't lead to a healthy string of similar roles for her considering the effort she puts in here. A multi-talented actress and musician, thanks for the (monster) mammaries, Ms. Bresee.

This review is representative of the Vinegar Syndrome DVD/Blu-ray combo. Specs and extras: new 4K scan from original 35mm negative; 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; interview with makeup effects artist John Carl Buechler; original theatrical trailer; TV spots; still gallery; reversible artwork; English subs; running time: 01:36:58
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