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The Fight For Sanity in Insane Times by Will Moriaty
DVD Grindhouse: "Murder Mansion" (1972) by Andy Lalino
DVD Review: “Psychotronica Collector’s Set” by ED Tucker
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DVD Grindhouse: "Murder Mansion" ("Mansión de la niebla, La", Spain/Italy, 1972, a.k.a. "Maniac Mansion")
Though tame, it's recommended you seek out this Eurohorror gem, a readily available PD title selection (in my case, the "Curse of the Dead" 10 movie set from Brentwood/BCI Eclipse). Murder Mansion haunts as if a fine horror story from Creepy or Eerie magazines materialized right off the pages. So gorgeously early '70s in look and mood, this is THE movie you'll want to watch repeatedly at the witching hour.
A common staple among '70s European horror films are their chronic ambiguous narratives. Most film theorists and fans concur the European style attacks like a nightmarish painting, brush-stroked with metaphor that begs to be studied to achieve some semblance of narrative satisfaction. Others suggest European filmmakers were too lazy or possibly stoned out of their gourd. Whatever the reasons, these dreamy phantasmagorias contrast themselves from their more literal American counterparts. Or possibly it's a Spanish/Italian tactic for disguising plot holes for the sake of artistic integrity.
Murder Mansion, however, is in no way in the aesthetic league of Argento - in fact, the narrative plays out much more defined than sister Eurohorror films and is more digestible - but still semi-ambiguous. Think Argento films that mix fun and frights - Phenomena, Mother of Tears, Jenifer - that marinades Murder Mansion, a Spanish/Italian co-production.
The mystery commences with a bizarre series of chance encounters with various strangers - a dashing motorcyclist, spurned lover, free spirit, elderly couple, frisky older man. By fate, a sinuous fog forces all to abandon their vehicles in the dead of night, seeking shelter at a seemingly abandoned stately mansion. In her quest to locate assistance, the aforementioned spurned lover Elsa (Analia Gade) stumbles into a nearby graveyard, summoning a spectral chauffeur and his hideous madame. Panicked, she attempts to flee, nearly overcome by the phantoms. Eventually Elsa meets up with Fred (Andreas Rosino) and the free spirit Laura (Lisa Lionardi), who find her story fantastic. They do agree, however, to seek shelter in the mansion.
Eventually, other fog-bound refugees arrive: a lawyer and his wife and the horny Mr. Porter (Franco Fantasia - what a great name!), finding the mansion occupied by a mysterious young woman known as Martha Clinton who proceeds to welcome them inside, inviting them to stay the night until the fog clears in the morning. Above the fireplace in the living area is a portrait of "Julie", Martha's grandmother, who was reportedly burned at the stake for being a vampire/witch during the local history's plague-ravaged past - just the type of story one wants to hear when stranded at a mysterious house next to a graveyard on a foggy night. Actually, the hippie/geezer mash-up of guests dig the tall tale, accented by a door on the other side of the room they're commanded never to pass through. Tempting! Another spooky yarn Ms. Clinton relates concerns her aunt - who died years ago in an auto accident at the gates of the graveyard - driven by her chauffeur!
Before long, the guests begin dying one-by-one as you could no doubt guess. What makes this film somewhat surprising, at least in this cut, is the apparent lack of blood, which even for '72 was beginning to seem unusual. Reports suggest alternate European versions that include gore (and nudity). The murders are fashioned in the Scooby Doo mold, with the spectral chauffeur and frightening ghost of Julie Clinton appearing in the bedrooms (and in one case, the bed) of the various guests.
The main method in solving the mystery (and preserving their lives) is to venture through the forbidden door, what is exactly what Fred and Laura plot. They find the door leads to a stairway leading down into catacombs that extend to the graveyard. Below is the empty crypt of Julie Clinton! In an interesting scene, they encounter an underground fire with the corpse of Mrs. Tremont (of the elderly couple) swaying above it - hangman style!
An unwelcome element of the story is a long therapeutic flashback involving Elsa, her husband and her father, explaining why she's such a mixed-up person. Just when you think our patience is rewarded with a lesbian scene between Elsa and Martha Clinton, who attempts to comfort her, the two Euro-beauties don't quite go there.
The climax, which has a big lead-up mind you, again has much Scooby Doo flair to it, when Frank & Laura expose the odd scheme. A bit of a letdown, but realizing the film's strong points, especially compared to the glut of similar Spanish/Italian horror movies from the era, it's almost forgivable.
Horror movie fans will groove on the wonderful, memorable fog-shrouded sets, and is no doubt one of the best color films of the era to feature fog in such a rich, atmospheric way. The cast is solid, even with Americanized, dubbed-in voices, and the ghost of Julie Clinton is truly a great horror to behold. Star Ida Galli has an Italian horror/giallo/violent polizia dream resume: Hercules and the Haunted World, Bava's The Whip and the Body, War of the Zombies, Queens of Evil, the giallo The Scorpion's Tail (with Anita Strindberg from Lenzi's Almost Human), Lenzi's Slice of Horror, Spirits of Death, The Night Child, Footprints on the Moon, Lenzi's Syndicate Sadists, Fulci's The Psychic, among many other curiosities.
Actress Analia Gade (Elsa) too is a veteran of early '70s horror, having starred in Exorcism's Daughter in '71. Lisa Lionardi was in They're Coming to Get You, released the same year as Murder Mansion, and co-starred with Galli in The Scorpion's Tail. Star Andreas Rosino's a seasoned Spanish horror star, appearing in Naschy's The Werewolf vs. Vampire Women and Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (a Jack the Ripper tale). Francisco Fantasia no doubt has the proudest legacy, having been in the biz since the 1950's and starring in Jacque Tourneur's The Giant of Marathon, the fun Avenger X (which I own on glorious VHS from Wizard Video), Silent Horror ('72), Women in Cell Block 7, Fulci's Zombie, Slave of the Cannibal God, and Lenzi's famous Eaten Alive!
Even Alberto Dalbes, who plays minor character "Ernest" (the spurned lover's husband), appeared in the following: The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue, Tender and Perverse Emmanuelle, Jess Franco's Dracula vs. Dr. Frankenstein, Daughter of Dracula, Franco's unbelievably incredible The Demons(!), The Erotic Adventures of Frankenstein (Franco), Franco's The Diabolical Dr. Z.
"Oddservations" is ©2008 by Andy Lalino. The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.