Review: Bloodbath at the House of Death (1983)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #775

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 30, 1984
Sub-Genre: Horror/Spoof
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Budget: £850,000
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Ray Cameron
Producers: Laurence Myers, John Downes, Ray Cameron
Screenplay: Ray Cameron, Barry Cryer
Special Effects: Ian Rowley
Cinematography: Dusty Miller, Brian West
Score: Mark London, Mike Moran
Editing: Brian Tagg
Studio: Wildwood Productions
Distributors: Goldfarb Distribution, Nucleus Films (DVD)
Stars: Kenny Everett, Pamela Stephenson, Vincent Price, Gareth Hunt, Don Warrington, John Fortune, Sheila Steafel, John Stephen Hill, Cleo Rocos, Graham Stark, Pat Ashton, David Lodge, Debbie Linden, Tim Barrett, Barry Cryer, Anna Dawson, Gordon Rollings, Michael McIntyre as E.T. (uncredited)

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Rod Stewart “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”

[2] Siouxsie & The Banshees “Night Shift”

[3] Madness “House of Fun”

We Brits love ourselves a national treasure. Should an entertainer provide pleasure to enough people over a sustained period or attend a sufficient number of charity fundraisers, then as a nation, we feel obliged to place them on pedestals for the media to take pot-shots at until which time as they shame themselves publicly. You could be considered a national treasure one day but, one false move, and the tabloid newspapers will tear you limb from bloody limb, while the broadsheets grind your bones into dust. It’s a jungle out there, mostly made of concrete, and no place for a national treasure under investigation. One man who would have given me an amen on that one is the late great Kenny Everett and, if you haven’t heard of this fine figure of a man previously, well then I guess you have now.

I remember it like it was just yesterday. The Iron Lady was in power, poll tax was hitting the good British people directly in their pocket, and a certain social activist by the name of Mary Whitehouse was sticking her oar in where it really had no place. Censorship was this year’s freedom and anything deemed at all improper was placed under intense scrutiny and promptly removed from circulation. When Kenny hit the airwaves as a radio broadcaster, and later, our screens with his weekly sketch show, the powers that be had no idea whatsoever how to take him. While pretty much the entire population accepted him into their bosom, his tumultuous relationship with the media did him few favors.

Despite the vultures circling overhead with intent to swoop, Kenny did what Kenny did best and teased every boundary he possibly could through his art. Innuendo was a friend of his, perversion a fuck buddy, and his numerous alter egos put the smiles back on a fair few faces. Sid Snot, Gizzard Puke and Cupid Stunt were just some of the “inappropriate” aliases he paraded under, while his botched D.I.Y. sketch as the butter-fingered Reg Prescott was one big “fuck you losers” at the censors. This young man would no absolutely nothing wrong in so many eyes, yet nothing whatsoever right in others.

Then, just as his big-screen debut Bloodbath at the House of Death greased up for its premiere, Kenny was deemed to have dropped something of a bollock in the Houses of Parliament, of all places. Regrettably, his stony-faced audience failed to spot the funny side in his “Let’s bomb Russia!” quip and Ray Cameron’s harmless horror spoof felt the full force of the resulting media backlash. Critics swiftly named and shamed it as the worst movie of 1983, theatrical release was never granted, and it was left to video rental to salvage something from such cinematic crucifixion.

Over twenty years have passed since Kenny’s untimely death and I still treasure him every bit as dearly, if not more so. Therefore, there seems no better time than the present to finally offer Cameron’s film the airtime it was never destined to be granted under such a fascist regime as the Thatcher era. I can’t promise miracles as I’ve watched many hours of Everett over the years and his sole silver screen outing is far from his finest. But I give you my solemn oath, it will all be done in the best possible taste.

You could level countless criticisms against Bloodbath at the House of Death, but being slow out of the gates ain’t one of them. We open at a palatial country home, Headstone Manor, where a 18-strong bloodbath is playing out, courtesy of a band of satanic monks. Heads roll, throats are sliced, limbs lopped off, ropes burn, businessmen spontaneously combust – it’s a goddamn free-for-all is what it is. Unsurprisingly, this little moonlit massacre earns Headstone Manor the undesirable nickname “The House of Death” and nobody in their right mind would ever dream of spending the night there for fear of coming to a sticky end. However, paranormal investigators aren’t known for being in their right mind, and there just so happens to be a number of them heading there at this precise moment.

Led by Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Everett) and Dr. Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson), this small group of great scientific minds have been sent to investigate Headstone Manor for supernatural phenomena and report their findings. No sooner have they set their overnight bags down, than radioactivity readings go through the roof and there’s evidently something amiss about this place as it’s dropping some fairly cast-iron clues that none of them are welcome. Worse still, the satanic monks are preparing to throw them a housewarming party they will never forget and all signs point to a decidedly long night ahead.

The sect’s master of ceremonies is a 700-year-old disciple of Satan known as The Sinister Man (Vincent Price) and it’s his job to rally this rowdy rabble, while summoning all manner of demonic entities to assist in the planned eviction. Meanwhile, The House of Death is keen to live up to its name once more and has sent in the entry-level spooks to get the party started. Tensions are rising, tempers fraying, and blouses beginning to unbutton all by themselves. But this is merely a prelude to the main event and that bloodbath appears to be very much on the cards.

Bloodbath at the House of Death rattles along at a fair old clip and, like any spoof worth its salt, sends up as many well-respected horror movies as it possibly can along the way. Alien, An American Werewolf in London, Carrie, Friday the 13th, Jaws, The Entity, The Legend of Hell House and The Shining are all referenced, none of them with any great deal of invention, and the lion’s share of jokes fall woefully flat, to the point where cringing becomes almost mandatory. That said, the scattershot screenplay from Cameron and legendary British comic Barry Cryer does contain a few hidden treasures and, while much of the material is feeble, Everett is on wonderfully effervescent form throughout.

There are a handful of priceless moments including one at a local tavern where confusion over the manner in which the eighteen victims met their demise culminates in a group sing-song and a similarly rib-tickling flashback that reveals Mandeville to a disgraced Nazi surgeon by the name of Ludwig Manheim which perfectly showcases Everett’s exquisite comic timing with regards to “splatstick”. If only he had more memorable lines to recite, then Bloodbath at the House of Death would be in danger of becoming something of a classic. Alas, it’s bare bones on that front and Cameron is left banking on colorful turns from its ensemble and a gloriously demented one from Price to lease it out from the doldrums.

It’s worth noting that, aside from Stephenson (who had no intention of slumming it with the heathens between takes, the cast largely comprises Everrett’s closest friends. Cleo Rocos and Sheila Steafel were both mainstays on the long-running Kenny Everett Television Show and a number of other faces are recognizable from British TV in the eighties.

It’s quite clear they’re all in on the joke, it’s just a shame the audience aren’t supplied the same enlightenment. Make no mistake, there are some incalculable sight gags amidst the eye rolling, and 92 minutes never once feels like a prison sentence. But the rafters are far too creaky to make it feel like home sweet home.

While the treatment that Cameron’s movie received on its doomed release was downright unjust and borderline despicable, there’s no smoke without fire on this occasion. When you look at the great spoofs of our time (Airplane!, Top Secret, Blazing Saddles), the hit-miss ratio is extraordinarily high and, if one gag doesn’t break you, then the next one surely will. Bloodbath at the House of Death comes good on around 10% of its humor, which may appear too measly to entertain such an undertaking.

However, I have long since mastered the art of engaging one tenth of my grey matter when venturing into affectionate codswallop such as this and couldn’t bring myself to be mean-spirited. It may not be particularly funny, but it is seldom anything less than fun, and in the words of the irrepressible Cupid Stunt, “it’s all done in the best possible taste”.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: One of the reasons Cameron’s film didn’t fare well theatrically was the 18 certificate slapped on it by the BBFC and it’s hard to argue that Bloodbath at the House of Death doesn’t warrant it, at least given the timing of its release. We get hatchets to the head, faces melted off with blowtorches, throats cut with wall mounted can-openers, ritual burning, shotgun sprees and even a murderous arm mole for good measure. It’s all played strictly for laughs, but kudos to Ian Rowley for some surprisingly effective practical effects.

For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: Unfortunately, the gorgeous Rocos keeps her bra straps in their upright positions, but the similarly irresistible Stephenson isn’t quite so fortunate. Poltergeists aren’t known for being the most tender lovers but it turns out they’re dab hands at unfastening lingerie.

 

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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