Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The House That Cried Murder (1973)

(This is based on the UK cut of the film known as No Way Out that is - if you can believe the IMDB here - missing twelve minutes of footage.)

The pampered rich man's daughter Barbara (Robin Strasser) falls in love with David (Arthur Roberts), one of her Daddy's (John Beal) employees. She really really really wants to marry David and live with him in the only thing she ever managed to accomplish, a rather strange looking house that she built herself (or, I surmise, designed).

Daddy is less than supportive of the idea because he thinks that David (and let me quote the wisdom of Daddy here) "stinks", but he is helpless when confronted with Barbara's talent for incessant whining. Unfortunately, it turns out that his analysis of David's character was quite excellent, although he could have added enormous stupidity to the man's unsavory character traits. The dear boy meets his former girlfriend Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni) during the wedding reception and promptly jumps on her while the reception is still running. Too bad for him that Barbara stumbles into the unlocked room where he and Helen are having their fun. Barb gets understandably hysterical, pokes David's arm a little with a pair of scissors and flees in her bloody bridal gown.

Since nobody else knows of his acts of douchebaggery, David lets Helen move in with him and mumbles things about divorce.

Barbara's (nameless) Dad shows a certain amount of sympathy with him, explains why he salutes the flag, but also tells David a funny little story about what happened when Barbara had a falling out with her pet chicken (spoiler: it didn't end well for the chicken).

Of course, strange things begin to happen to David and Helen, starting with the customary disquieting phone calls, nightmares and anonymously gifted bridal gowns and ending in the gift of a chicken head on a pillow.

For most of its running time The House That Cried Murder is a less than satisfying experiment in making a psychological thriller. The plot could probably have made a nice little film when directed as a Giallo by an Italian director (and I think even Umberto Lenzi would have been enough). Alas, director Jean-Marie Pelissie doesn't seem to know what he's doing for most of the time. For much of the film, with the exception of one dream sequence, there is not much sense of style on display. The direction is not so much bad (as in technically inadequate) as without creativity.

Neither the script with its total obviousness in everything nor the dreadful but enthusiastic actors are able to pick up the slack, but at least the combination of an extremely bad Easy Listening soundtrack (that sometimes, yet not often enough, transforms into a typical 70s horror soundtrack), the overenthusiastic acting and general silliness gets highly amusing. That's probably not what the film has in mind, but I take my fun where I can get it.

Another way to have fun with The House That Cried Murder lies when you look at it in its function as a time capsule for early 70s bourgeois fashion and culture. I find the things like this endlessly fascinating, especially when the low budget of a film leads to most actors in the background appearing in their usual day to day clothes. There's also one of the worst (and least plausible) wedding bands in film history on display.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, the film's final ten or fifteen minutes change tone and pace from what came before completely and provide a perfectly mad finale in what I can only identify as an EC Comics style when everything climaxes with and in the true feeling of weirdness I usually hope for in films like this.

You might call this too little, too late, yet fifteen good minutes of cinema are still more than someone like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich has been able to achieve in a whole career, so I don't see much reason to complain.


CRwM said...

Don't pretend like you're not drooling over your pre-bought 2012 tickets!

houseinrlyeh said...

Just about as much as I do over new episodes of CSI David Caruso's Sunglasses.

Todd said...

"There's also one of the worst (and least plausible) wedding bands in film history on display."

You've really piqued my interest there. Who was it? The Shaggs?

houseinrlyeh said...

Now The Shaggs would have earned themselves descriptors like "delightful" or "glorious".
The film went for the accordion driven elderly people last seen and heard on the director's great-grandmother's funeral.