Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movies: Like a B & B with a body count.

Murder Mansion is a giallo-influenced Spanish/Italian production that hangs its modest horrors on an old school Ten Little Indians-style plot. A group of strangers gets lost in a deep fog. After a series of auto accidents and wrong turns, they all end up seeking shelter in a gothic, decaying mansion. The mansion’s sole occupant, a mysterious young woman, welcomes the visitors into her home and spins several tales about the home’s former occupants, her ancestors. She explains that many of her ancestors were witches, which explains the surreal paintings scattered about the house (the witches liked rip-off Bosch and over-sized prog-rock covers). She also tells her guests that the mansion was once centrally located in a busy mountain town. However, tragedy struck and the town was abandoned. Just what happened is unclear, but the locals blamed the predations of vampire. The trapped motorists, being thoroughly modern Euro-types, laugh this off and make for bed.

Of course, one by one, the guests start to bite it. Desperate to avoid becoming next on the list, a young couple (a motorcyclist named Fred and Laura, the hottie hitchhiker he picked up) tries to get to bottom of the things. Who is the mysterious lady of the house? Why the uncanny resemblance between her and the painting of the old crone that hangs above the living room fireplace? What is she hiding in the locked and bolted basement? And, perhaps most importantly, is it a coincidence that the meddling self-appointed junior detective in this mystery/horror flick shares the same name as the cravat wearing driver of Scooby-Doo’s mystery machine?

Murder Mansion is incredibly lightweight as far as Euro-horrors go. In many ways it owes more to creaky house mysteries, such as The Old Dark House (1932) and The Bat Whispers (1930), than it does to the stylish and gory Italian fare it superficially resembles. The body count is modest, the gore is restrained and minimal, and the plotting, which plods at first, gives maybe too much time to the development of a gothic mood so overripe as to almost lapse into campy self-parody. The story is engaging on a strictly entertaining level. The acting is serviceable, but without any notable performances. Altogether, this is an unremarkable pop confection. I suspect most viewers will breeze through the flick without being shaken or deeply engrossed.

There’s not much to love or hate here. To be honest, I enjoyed purely for personal reasons. When I was a little kid, my pops and I had this sort of arrangement. If I pretended to go to bed without fuss or muss, then, after mom was asleep, I could sneak out of my room and join him in watching the late night horror flicks shown on television. These films were universally low-budget cut rate stuff. I remember very few of the particular films, instead remembering them as an endless series of gothic houses, mysterious murders, and so on. While watching Murder Mansion, I thought that it was exactly the sort of film that might have shown up on one of those nights. As such, it was impossible for me to really dislike it.

Still, that’s just me and I recognize that, on an objective level, we’re talking about a pretty weak film. On its own slim merits, using the tried and true Settlements of the Novi Sad Municipality Film Rating System, this gets a Futog.

NB: My copy of this flick comes from what I’ve since learned is a heavily edited shovel-ware version. Other reviewers have noted the films gore, nudity, and excellent use of color – all of which was absent in my print. If somebody has seen the original and would like to supplement this review with their take on the full cut, I and my readers would find it interesting.


Anonymous said...

The edited version wasn't obvious ? I mean, as I'm reading your review, I'm thinking, where's the sex ? where's the gratuitous nudity, etc ? That and gore are the staples!

(oh, yeah, could you PM me the ms's blog, if you will ?)

CRwM said...

Surprisingly, it wasn’t readily apparent. It seemed to me like the filmmakers were doing a sort of James Bond/Austin Powers “just enough flesh to not get in trouble” thing, but I didn’t notice it being cut into ribbons.

I think two things helped disguise the cuts. First, narrative logic is not a strength I equate with Euro horror. Mood trumps narrative coherence as a general rule, so I probably didn’t even bother to ponder any confusing bits.

Second, I grew up on a steady diet of old school Hollywood horror. Going through an entire creaky house mystery film without flashing a boobie or opening a vein doesn’t seem so strange to me. Though, now, considering the giallo influnces, I probably should have guessed.

Anonymous said...

True. Movies like Hill House did great with the suspenseful horror which as a kid was usually scarrier than outright gore.

However, I grew up more on the Jason types than older B/W types. I didn't appreciate Hitchcock as a kid. Go figure.