Houses of horror through the 1970s

Nope, not The Amityville Horror house. These are six other horror houses from the decade. Maybe it’s because I grew up on so much of this shit that I simply can’t get into the resurgence of it in mainstream horror these days. Or maybe it’s because the new shit is just as lame.

THE HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE (1970)

It runs only 74 minutes, but it’s the movie that would not die. Good thing it came before The Exorcist because it’s the worst possession movie ever. Ironically, the person possessed is Kitty Winn, who played Sharon in the first two Exorcist films.

She and her aunt, played by Barbara Stanwyck of The Big Valley and The Colbys, move into a house and almost immediately have a séance with the neighbors.

And then Kitty starts acting weird. And that’s pretty much it. She acts weird, wind blows through the house a lot, and the neighbors try to help them figure out who has got a hold of Kitty. And in a very pre-#MeToo moment, one neighbor tries to force himself on Stanwyck during a dinner party, but she continues to work with him when things get crazy. WTF?

Basically, this is a boring mystery, not a horror film.

THE STONE TAPE (1972)

Oh the agony.

A bunch of scientist types are working in an old mansion when they discover a room where a woman can constantly be heard screaming…and seen falling down stairs.

The team decides it wants to try to record the ghostly phenomenon and run it through a computer to analyze it.

This shit is like a scientific ghost story and it’s so boring. The ghost screams, the characters scream at each other (constantly), and nothing much more happens. Don’t even ask me about this thing…

It’s not until the very end when the main woman explores the screaming woman room on her own that something finally happens—neon color light blobs and a twist ending.

This really could have been a 20-minute short film.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

Its based on a Richard Matheson novel and directed by John Hough (American Gothic, The Incubus, Howling IV), yet to this day I still find this movie to be a drag. I thought watching it as and adult I might appreciate it a bit more. Didn’t work when I first bought it on DVD, didn’t work now when I tried to focus more for this blog.

A disappointing mash-up of The Haunting of Hill House and The House on Haunted Hill, this just reeks of dreary 1970s horror that has some great gothic atmosphere but goes nowhere. 4 people stay at a mansion to research a haunting: a skeptical man and his wife, Roddy McDowall, who claims to have almost died there on his last visit, and a young medium.

They have a séance, the medium starts talking like someone else, they do paranormal research, stuff moves, doors open and close, thunder cracks and lighting flashes, there are long camera pans of the interior that are right out of The House on Haunted Hill, they find a classic 1970s The Forgotten Prisoner model by Aurora and bury it…

And the medium starts to lose her shit like Lilli Taylor in The Haunting. She also has an awesome fight with a psycho cat.


Why the hell is this hairy thing attacking me?

But the ultimate moment has to be when the married woman comes onto Roddy McDowall while naked…so he slaps her. Knowing what we know now, it just elevates the camp factor tenfold.


Why the hell is this hairy thing attacking me?

And the icing on the cake of this crappy film? McDowell seriously exorcises the ghost by mocking him for being short when he was alive. I’m not kidding at all. If he’d waited four years, he could have burst into a chorus of Randy Newman’s biggest hit: ”Short people got no reason to live…”

THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN (1974)

The House on Skull Mountain is like a voodoo version of an Agatha Christie mystery.

An old voodoo lady dies, all her relatives meet at her mansion for the reading of the will, and they begin getting offed one by one…by her servant, who stabs a voodoo doll before each death.

This movie is excruciatingly slow and scare-free. The best part is adorable Mike Evans, best known as the son of George and Weezie Jefferson.

He gets a much better chance to shine here, playing a smooth talking, chauvinistic asshole…until his, um, downfall, at which point the film drags again.

The most interesting thing about it is that there’s one white dude, and everyone is like, how does this cracker think he’s related and getting his hands on some of our inheritance? (They don’t actually say that, but I wish they did)

At the end there’s a big voodoo ritual and dance, and the old lady comes back momentarily as a corpse, but it in no way makes this one worth visiting.

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

Maybe The Legend of Hell House writer Richard Matheson and this film’s director Dan Curtis, who had a working relationship in the 1970s (Dead of Night, Trilogy of Terror) should have just made one good The Burnt Offerings of Hell House film instead of working on two separate films. Honestly, this one has a better reputation than it deserves, and this comes from someone who grew up with it.

What saves it is the cast: Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and even Burgess Meredith for about two minutes. Which is funny considering this movie is essentially a mash-up of The Sentinel, in which Burgess starred, and The Shining.

A couple, their son, and an aunt come to rent a huge house at a great price. The only catch? They have to slip food to a reclusive old lady who stays hidden away in an attic room.

Who the fuck jumps at some The Sentinel shit like that, even if the price is great? I guess maybe it’s because this came out a year before The Sentinel.

Karen becomes obsessed with checking on the old lady. Oliver begins seeing a creepy hearse driver, starts to snap, and takes it out on the kid.

Then Karen takes shit out on the kid. And each crazy parent tries to protect the kid from the other.

This mess runs way too long at an hour and 55 minutes. It’s just a huge drag for the sole purpose of getting to the final zinger moment when Reed goes upstairs to finally see the old lady. It’s the best part of the film aside from Oliver whacking weeds while shirtless. Now I know why I liked this film as a kid.

One final note—Lee Montgomery, who plays the son, also appeared in the Curtis/Matheson anthology Dead of Night and went on to appear in Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Mutant, and The Midnight Hour in the 80s.

THE LEGACY (1978)

Richard Marquand, the director of Return of the Jedi, brings us another movie that spooked me as a child but bored the hell out of me as an adult. I don’t know how I grew up in a time of slow burners without Ritalin and lived to tell about it. I don’t even know how I lived through the horrible 1970s pop ballad during the opening credits without Ritalin.

Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott star as a husband and wife who have a minor motorcycle accident on a country road in England and are invited by a rich man to chill at his mansion.

Turns out the numerous weirdoes on the property have plans for Katharine. There are a myriad of characters filling the house and confusing the plot, some who work there, others who come to visit, and people start dying off in various mysterious ways…including The Who frontman Roger Daltrey.

Meanwhile, Katharine and some of the guests are brought into a chamber to meet an old, bedridden, dying person behind a curtain…who has demon hands. So Katharine and Sam try everything they can to get away from the house.

Every scene goes on forever. There’s an awful orchestral score when the couple tries to get away on horses, then again when they steal a car and keep circling right back to the house, and then when Sam has an archery battle with a guy on a roof. I felt like I was watching How the fricking West Was Won.

An evil nurse, crazy cats, wild dogs, and the reveal of the hideous thing behind the bed curtain don’t save the film. The only redeeming value this film holds for me these days is Sam Elliott’s hot and steamy shower scene.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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