Directed by Michael Armstrong. Starring Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Dennis Price, George Sewell, Richard O'Sullivan, Julian Barnes, Gina Warwick. Horror/Thriller, UK, 92 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Screenbound Pictures on 1st April 2019.
Ever wondered what SCOOBY-DOO would be like if it was set in England and diidn't feature a dog? If so you may have too much time on your hands but you could also try watching THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR to help satisfy your curiosity as essentially that's what it is, albeit not quite as much fun.
What we have here is a group of twenty-something year-old teenagers - Frankie Avalon was 29 at the time - who are all getting down and grooving at a party hosted by Chris (Avalon) when fellow groover Richard (Julian Barnes - PACIFIC RIM) suggests they go ghost hunting at a nearby abandoned house, and with that the beautiful people jump into their cars and head off to lark about in the dark. However, once there one of the kids gets separated from the rest of the group and ends up getting butchered by an unseen killer with a huge blade, but the door to the house was locked after the kids went inside... so which one of them did it?
Well, that happens about halfway into the movie and so we, and the police in the film, have plenty of time to try and work it out, although you'll likely have it nailed before Inspector Bill Bradley (Dennis Price - THEATRE OF BLOOD) does. THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR, despite its desperate attempts to appeal to the youth market with its funky costume design and swinging London locations, is very much rooted in the old-fashioned murder mystery tradition of THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE CAT AND THE CANARY and as such the dialogue feels very stilted and more akin to the needless red herring sugar daddy sub-plot that sees leathery old George Sewell (GET CARTER) being obsessed with the much younger Gina Warwick and stalking her to the old house. It's an odd aside to the main plot that never really amounts to anything but it isn't the only one, and as the film goes on it becomes obvious that there is no clear direction and by the time the killer is revealed there is nowhere for it to go, the film just sort of ending with no sense of closure or resolution, which feels very incongruous to its haunted house/murder mystery aesthetic but not radical enough given the weak script that leads to that point.
The mixture of younger and older actors never really pays off like it does in any number of counter culture movies from the era, the supposed teenagers never really appearing youthful despite acting very immature a lot of the time, which leads to the question of casting and who thought Frankie Avalon was a good choice for the lead in a British horror film. His acting ability aside, Avalon feels totally out of place as the only American in the cast and his presence or reasons why his character would be in London are never really explained, making him stick out amongst the other actors. Of the other actors it is the female cast who come off best, with Gina Warwick and Jill Hayworth being notable for their strong presence and relatively believable character portrayals. Future TV favourite Richard O' Sullivan provides the comic relief and is the only remotely likeable male character thanks to his constantly smirking expression and dry line delivery but all of his good work is nearly overshadowed by how bad Julian Barnes is, his attempts at playing quiet and sensitive being wooden and lifeless, slowing down any scene that he is in to the point of going backwards. Needless to say the older generation in the film are written to be fairly stuffy and unlikeable, despite being there to do their job and investigate a murder, and so there are very few characters here to get behind.
Feeling a lot longer than its 92-minute running time, THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR is, at best, a curiosity that feels like a few ideas thrown together without any idea where it is all going to go, and it just sort of meanders its way to an unsatisfactory ending that feels incomplete. The two kills that happen in the movie are fairly bloody, and are what give the film its '15' rating, but otherwise the only thing more offensive than any blood or gore that gets shown is the terrible acting and horrible characters that make up most of the cast, resulting in a messy and unfocused film that should be a lot more entertaining - for whatever reason - than it actually ends up being.