House of the Seven Corpses (1974)
Occasionally intriguing but ultimately shoddy schlock-horror. A film crew shoot a very low-budget horror flick about the Beales, a wealthy clan with a fondness for the occult, on location in the family manor. The last Beale, David (Jerry Strickler), has suggested the project about his own family history, to cash-strapped director (John Ireland), a Jacques Tourneur-like specialist in witchcraft pictures, and gotten himself into the cast. But, of course, not everything is as it seems. It’s almost a horror film equivalent of Day For Night, going into detail in portraying tight-budget filmmaking, and focusing a surprising amount on the interactions and tensions between the flaky, half-desperate movie folk.
Two of the titular seven
The trouble is, you get the feeling Ireland would do a better job than actual director Paul Harrison manages. The editing, pacing, and dramatic values are slip-shod, and the plot nearly incoherent. Ever noticed how, when movies are being made within bad movies like this one, they’re only ever staged either in unnaturally long, one-take single set-ups? Or the exact opposite - there’ll be a long sequence (where the film is trying to fool us) that turns out to be one being shot for the fake movie, utilising multiple camera set-ups and special effects all of which are impossible to achieve in one take on the set? That sort of cheating drives me nuts.
The film generates a modicum of atmosphere in the middle, in its resolutely low-tech fashion, but it suffers from a fatal lack of internal sense, both in its story and its opportunistic scene constructions. One shot of a zombie crossing a clearing is repeated three times. Ed Wood would have laughed at that one. The movie biz satire is blunted by providing only regulation stereotypes – hard-assed, obsessed director whose glory days are long gone; bitchy, febrile, aging diva (Faith Domergue, who still couldn't act); alcoholic Shakespeare quoting ham (Charles Macaulay); pretty but shakily talented starlet (Carole Wells); nerdy crew members, etc. John Carradine collects a quick paycheque as the caretaker. It all leads to a blunt piece of death-by-irony when Ireland, more disturbed by the destruction of his film than by the death of his cast and crew, has a camera dropped on his head from a great height.
By the time the exceedingly...slow...moving...zombies somehow bumped off everyone, I was pretty glad of it.