Sunday, March 5, 2023

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) review

Eddie Albert (Ted Fletcher), Susan George (Laura Fletcher), Doug McClure (Alex Curtis), Amy Barrett (Amy Fletcher), Mako Hattori (Otami), Toshiyuki Sasaki (Shigero), Toshiya Maruyama (Masanori), Tsuyako Okajima (Mayjo Witch), Henry Mittwer (Zen Monk)
Directed by Kevin Connor 

The Short Version: THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982) is a curious blend of old-fashioned Japanese ghost story with modern day sex and violence. Slashers were bigger business than haunted house pictures, so a movie with paranormal elements of a Japanese nature turned out to be a hard sell for audiences. In a way, HOUSE was ahead of its time since modern Japanese horror became popular in America in the early 2000s. Elements of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), Japanese folklore, samurai's and severed limbs DWELL within this HOUSE.

A writer and his family move into a 200 year-old house in Kyoto, Japan. Told beforehand the isolated country home has a reputation for being haunted, they move in anyway. It isn't long before the angry spirits that died there over a hundred years earlier--a samurai, his unfaithful wife and her lover--return to terrorize and possess the new occupants to recreate the horrific crime all over again.

Director Kevin Connor (you can read our expansive interview with Mr. Connor--including the making of this film--HERE) is once more reunited with Doug McClure; only here, McClure isn't stranded in some lost world populated by monsters, but one of a trio of characters possessed by vengeful Japanese spirits in Kyoto. Edward Albert and Susan George are the husband and wife who move to Japan and find themselves the victims of a 140 year old curse lurking in the house they've just purchased. 

Slasher movies were in vogue at the time, while haunted house pictures held a smaller share of the horror market. Martial arts movies were likewise fashionable and Connor's movie contains slivers of that genre as well. It's an international mishmash of elements that the producers were possibly hoping-if nothing else--that audiences would latch on to the Oriental mystique of it all.
Based on a reportedly unpublished novel titled 'Where Evil Dwells'  by James Hardiman (James William Edward Hardiman), the film adaptation had been in the planning stages as early as 1978, according to old magazine articles. Hardiman was a former merchant seaman who later became the Vice President of the Rank Organization. Upon his arrival in Hollywood in 1956, he would hold executive jobs at companies like Walt Disney Productions, CBS and Columbia. The author of 13 published works, his unpublished 'Where Evil Dwells' was written for the screen by his former partner, Robert Suhosky.
When filming finally began, it was a co-production between UA and Toei of Japan. The main problem with the movie is you know how it's going to end very early on; there's few surprises along the way, although one left-fielder is a nighttime attack by the male ghosts in the form of two enormous spider crabs!
Having photographed New World's GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) the previous year, Jacques Haitkin's subtle camera snaps some foreboding shots of the title abode from a variety of angles--giving the viewer a look at the surrounding countryside and blowing reeds. There are also some welcome aerial shots of Kyoto's rural areas. Haitkin would go on to be Wes Craven's DP on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984); and other genre pictures like THE HIDDEN (1987) and SCANNER COP (1994).

The cast inhabiting THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS is great, but appeal is likely best appreciated by the Drive-in crowd. Acting is fine across the board, just there's little else to chew on aside from the escalating horror leading to the predictable finale. 
As escapist horror, HOUSE works well enough so long as you don't expect too much on the exposition front. As is, it's not nearly as lovingly mounted, meticulously directed as his first movie FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974); nor as memorable as the massive cult favorite MOTEL HELL (1980).
For example, the infidelity angle isn't explored much beyond the fact the audience is aware the apparitions intend to recreate the same night of murder and mayhem so that the souls of their victims take their place. Other than a few facial expressions of "what's happening to me?", McClure and Susan George's characters never vocalize their bodies being invaded, they just get on with it.

Director Connor's original cut of the movie was much different from the theatrical release; resulting in his displeasure that audiences didn't get to see his intended vision.
Edward Albert alternated between movies and television and did lots of low budget action and horror. The son of Eddie Albert of GREEN ACRES (1965-1971) fame, Albert Junior made an impression early on starring opposite Goldie Hawn in 1972s BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE. He won a Golden Globe for his role as a blind man but was unable to capitalize on his breakout status. For a while, Albert was romantically involved with Kate Jackson of CHARLIE'S ANGELS (1976-1981). He was a good actor relegated to smaller, but no less entertaining productions. 
Among his credits was Irwin Allen's goofy WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980) and the lead heroic role in New World's exploitation favorite GALAXY OF TERROR (1981). Then there's ELLIE, the 1984 comedy-revenge flick co-starring Penthouse Pet Sheila Kennedy and Award-winning actress Shelly Winters. GETTING EVEN (1986) saw Albert in action hero mode taking on a villainous Joe Don Baker. Sadly, Edward Albert died from lung cancer at only 55 years of age. 

Doug McClure was a childhood favorite and affectionately referred to around these parts as "The King of the Monster Movies". Most famous for playing Trampas on the 90-minute western TV series THE VIRGINIAN (1962-1971), Doug did lots of action and adventure films like SHENANDOAH (1965) and THE KING'S PIRATE (1967). 
It was his four lost world movies for Kevin Connor that really made him a superstar with kids; those being THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977), and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978). 
By the 1980s, McClure's star was fading, but some leads came like the exploitation classic HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and an obscure but prescient movie called FIREBIRD 2015 AD (1981) about the US government banning gas-powered vehicles. 
Unfortunately, and in a similar fate that met Edward Albert, Doug McClure would die from lung cancer at the young age of 59.

British actress Susan George is Edward Albert's wife who becomes increasingly disenchanted with their new haunted home. An underrated actress, she was quite good at doing emotional outbursts in pivotal moments of a character at the breaking point. 
She held her own in a movie about a babysitter stalked by a killer escaped from an insane asylum called FRIGHT (1971); and menaced and raped by thugs in STRAW DOGS (1971). She was DIRTY MARRY to Peter Fonda's CRAZY LARRY (1974) and a troubled and abused housewife in the big budget exploitation of MANDINGO (1975). A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976) was a riveting thriller with Susan in distraught housewife mode again, and of course there's the ludicrousness of ENTER THE NINJA (1981) where she acted in the same capacity with Franco Nero battling Christopher George and Sho Kosugi. Her acting career wound down by the mid-80s, married actor Simon MacCorkindale and raised horses.
As for director Kevin Connor, he moved on to much bigger topics in a smaller medium--the television mini-series. He would work with numerous big name actors and actresses in such popular and top-rated mini-series' and TV-movies like MASTER OF THE GAME (1984), NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II (1986), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1989), LIZ: THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR STORY (1995), MOTHER TERESA: IN THE NAME OF GOD'S POOR (1997), FRANKENSTEIN (2004), and BLACKBEARD (2006). 

In one way, Kevin Connor's haunted house movie was ahead of its time. Twenty years later, American companies would be remaking blockbuster Japanese horror hits in a similar vein. Connor's 1982 spooker is serviceable horror told in an old-fashioned way that delivers a handful of creepy moments. If you're a fan of Japanese horror in the mold of GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959) or even KWAIDAN (1964), you'll likely find something to hold your attention hidden within the walls of this HOUSE.

This review is representative of the Scream Factory blu-ray double feature paired with GHOST WARRIOR (1986). Specs and extras:  01:28:06

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