David Sodergren’s Italian House Of Horrors: Part Two
Umberto Lenzi – An Appreciation
Last time, I took a look at the first two films from Reiteitalia’s ill-fated Italian House of Horrors tv series, Sweet House of Horrors and The House of Clocks, both directed by Lucio Fulci. The remaining two films are brought to us by good ol’ Umberto Lenzi, perhaps best known these days for his gruesome cannibal films Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. Lenzi, however, has had a varied and fascinating career, from his excellent early gialli like Paranoia and Orgasmo to a series of tough, violent cop films in the 70s, right up to a late-period horror renaissance of films like Ghosthouse and The Hell Gate. This brings us to 1989, and The House of Lost Souls, by far the better of the two Lenzi House of Horror movies.
The House of Lost Souls (1989, Umberto Lenzi)
Lost Souls is 80s Italian horror at its most bananas. We open with a dream sequence in which a skeleton in a wheelchair zooms towards the camera, intercut with tarantulas crawling over a severed head, and right off the bat you know you’re in for a damn good time.
Upon awakening from her nightmare, we encounter our first batshit-crazy line of dialogue, as our heroine’s boyfriend tries to console her.
“The doctors gave you a reasonable explanation, they said you have psychic powers.”
Sounds fair enough to me. The pair are part of a hugely irritating group of geology students, who for some reason have brought along a small child, who, in the grand tradition of Italian horror, is dubbed by a middle-aged woman. Get ready for House by the Cemetery flashbacks, people.
In fact, Fulci’s House by the Cemetery isn’t a bad comparison, as both films ruthlessly rip off The Shining to varying degrees of success. In House of Lost Souls, the group are forced to stay overnight in an abandoned motel. There, they witness the previous owner murdering his family with an axe, and don’t forget the beautiful woman in the shower who turns out to be a murderous hag! The motel itself is pretty creepy looking, and Lenzi throws enough cobwebs at the screen to create a pretty sinister atmosphere.
In fact, there were a few scenes that were surprisingly creepy. The motel is – of course – haunted by murderous zombies, and their brief appearances are handled rather well by Lenzi. A Buddhist monk ghost, in particular, has some scary moments, as well as the repeated appearances of a pair of suicide victims in a meat locker.
Sometimes, the kills get wildly over-the-top, the most extreme example being that annoying kid, who gets decapitated by – wait for it – a washing machine. It’s the gore highlight of a typically bloody Lenzi movie, and once again raises the question of just who the hell at Reietitalia thought giving Lenzi and Fulci money to make TV movies was a good idea?
Regardless, I’m glad they did. House of Lost Souls is a barrel of laughs and chills throughout, and fans of annoying characters will love every second. Seriously, these jerks are awful people. They stand around making terrible, unfunny jokes that everyone laughs at.
“Hey, even Irishmen are right some of the time,” says one joker, as the rest of the gang laugh hysterically. The kid talks like he’s a grandparent, accusing them of “lallygagging” and saying off-kilter things like, “Come on, I’m falling on my face.”
I hate them all and want them to die.
It doesn’t help that everyone is an idiot. After their first night in the motel, in which one woman gets stuck in the freezer with corpses, the child has a nightmare and stops breathing, and a ghostly TV explodes glass all over another woman, the men decide that all these events can be “easily explained,” and stick around for another day or two.
When people talk about characters acting dumb in horror movies, this is the sort of film they’re referring to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even basic human interactions are turned into nonsensical exchanges, such as my favourite –
“Listen, do you know the owner of the Motel Del Arimeto?”
“The owner of the Motel Del Arimeto? Is that what you said?”
YES, OF COURSE, IT WAS, YOU JUST HEARD HIM SAY IT.
House of Lost Souls is an absolute blast, and the score helps immeasurably. Credited to Claude King, it’s actually a series of Claudio Simonetti outtakes, so get ready to hear music from Demons and Bodycount (which I reviewed a while back) amongst the original compositions. The film builds to a spectacular climax, with the motel collapsing and our heroes trying to escape as the ghostly inhabitants stalk them through the burning building, and that sequence alone makes this film easily the best of the entire House of Horror series.
Sadly, that means the only way is down…
The House of Witchcraft (1989, Umberto Lenzi)
Upon first watching The House of Witchcraft, I assumed Lenzi had used up all his good ideas on Lost Souls. Then I discovered that this film was made first, so I have no idea why this film is such a colossal dud. Like Lost Souls, we open with a dream, in which a witch waves the protagonist’s severed head around before throwing it into a cauldron.
It’s a promising beginning, but then nothing happens for a long time. Instead of the wisecracking assholes from Lost Souls, we have a deathly-dull unhappily married couple. Our lead, Luke, is such a mopey sad-sack, with his long face and perpetual hangdog expression, that he’s impossible to care about.
In one scene he’s attacked by…feathers.
Just think about that.
We’ve gone from a child being chased across the room by a sentient washing machine and having his head ripped off, to a man screaming in terror as pretty white feathers billow around the room like he’s just lost a pillow fight.
Fuck off, Luke.
There’s not much to say about House of Witchcraft, because very little happens. There’s a welcome appearance from Jess Franco regular Paul Müller, and some pretty scenery, and I suppose the best character is the nerd boyfriend who keeps referring to pop-stars incorrectly.
The Madonna? The Pink Floyd? What are you on about, mate?
There’s one great moment towards the end, where a woman walks into the basement and finds it’s snowing, but that’s about all you’re gonna get folks.
It’s a sad end to what had, up to now, been a vastly entertaining series of films. Of the four, Fulci’s House of Clocks and Lenzi’s House of Lost Souls are by far the best. The other two can safely be skipped by all but Italian horror completists.
Now, I know I say this every month, but wouldn’t it be great if someone could put these films out on Blu-ray?
We can but dream.
KR: Read David Sodergren’s Italian House Of Horror Part One (Lucio Fulci) HERE
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018 to critical acclaim. Up next is Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle has just recently been released.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
Find David on Instagram here
Dead Girl Blues
A group of desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. They have no choice. Their lead actress has quit. They’re out of time. They’re out of money.
They’re out of luck.
For Crawford Manor has a past that won’t stay dead, and the crew are about to come face-to-face with the hideous secret that stalks the halls.
Will anyone survive…the NIGHT SHOOT?
A delirious homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Night Shoot delivers page after page of white-knuckle terror.