Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Haunted House of Horror (1969)

I haven't seen Haunted House of Horror for a while now, although it was, for a while, pretty much a fixture in the BBC's late night schedules.  I was reminded of it again recently when I was recording a segment for a podcast about David Bowie.  The Bowie connection lies in the fact that writer/director Michael Armstrong originally wanted to cast the singer in he role of 'Richard', who eventually turns out to be a psychopathic killer.  Armstrong had worked with Bowie before, having cast him in his short film, The Image, and was convinced that he was on the verge of breakthrough in his musical career, which would, potentially, boost the film's popularity.  The film's producers, Tigon and AIP, however, were less than convinced: up to that point Bowie's career had been singularly unsuccessful with a single and album failing to chart.  He was far from being the sort of household name they felt the film needed to secure sales, particularly in the US.  Consequently, AIP imposed Frankie Avalon (who was under contract to them) on the production as a lead actor.  In what was, presumably, a fop to Armstrong, they did cast a British singer in a supporting role: Mark Wynter.

Their choices emphasised the fact that, back then, films were financed and largely produced by middle aged, middle class men whose idea of popular music and youth culture were decidedly middle of the road.  (There are a huge number of low budget movies aimed at a youth audience made in the late sixties and early seventies, for instance, which assume that young people all listened to jazz - a decidedly middle aged genre both then and now).  They just wanted to play safe by featuring performers who represented types of popular music they understood, rather than taking a chance on someone up and coming who represented something new and challenging in pop culture terms.  Ultimately, this attitude seemed to extend to director Michael Armstrong, as well.  A young, up and coming director and writer, Haunted House of Horror (shot under his original title The Dark), was his first feature.  AIP, in particular, didn't like what he delivered and one of the producers, Gerry Levy, re shot parts of the film from his own rewrites, adding some new characters and a new sub plot.

The resulting film is, to say the least, uneven: that more than one director worked on it is painfully obvious, with clear differences in style.  Moreover, some of the locations don't match, the plotting feels disjointed and the pace uneven.  The actor who was eventually cast as the killer, Julian Barnes (not the writer), is largely ineffective in the role and one can only speculate as to the other worldly qualities that Bowie might have brought to the role.  Having said all of that, it remains a reasonably enjoyable film, with its portrait of the fag end of swinging London, full of would be 'groovy cats' desperately seeking new thrills, even staying in allegedly haunted houses for kicks.  Of course Armstrong (who went on to have an interesting and varied career in exploitation films) had the last laugh.  At around the same time as the film's UK release, Bowie scored his first top five hit with 'Space Oddity' and became a household name - his presence in Haunted House of Horror would undoubtedly have guaranteed it lasting cult status.  Instead, its main claim to fame now lies in the fact that it is clearly a proto slasher movie, providing the 'teenagers in peril' template that was to dominate horror films in the eighties.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home