Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Haunted House of Horror (1969)


Haunted House of Horror

Written & Directed by Michael Armstrong

Gary...Mark Wynter
Dorothy...Carol Dilworth
Sylvia...Gina Warwick
Chris...Frankie Avalon

Gary is the oh-so-dapper ladies man, employee of the fashionable men's store "Mates."  Dorothy is his suspicious blond girlfriend.  Suspicious, it turns out, for a good reason, because he's cheating on her with Syliva, the drop-dead delicious brunette tramp who dresses mannequins at a rival store across the street.  The three of them, along with dozens of others, converge at the house of Chris, the swingingest cat in all of England--which is a bit strange, seeing as how he's American.  But even the coolest kids are capable of throwing a boring party, and it's not long before they realize that this little shindig is, like, dullsville, man!

One of the happening hipsters decides that it would be a real gas to move the party to a nearby haunted house, and so they pack up their beer and cigarettes and one of those new-fangled reel-to-reels, and things really get jumping when things start bumping in the night.  It's just too bad that one of them ends up dead...

Rather than go to the authorities, Chris decides that it would be best to dump the body.  And suddenly, everyone is a suspect, not just in the eyes of their fellow party goers but the cops as well.  It could be anyone, because as Chris is quick to point out, "Any psychopath--male or female--can have superhuman strength when aroused!"

Despite the title, this isn't a haunted house flick.  It's more of a thriller/whodunnit with hipper-than-thou leanings.  In fact, with the jazzy music, mod fashions, bright colors and highly stylized settings, it's almost as if some schmoe decided to take a script from The Monkees that was rejected for being too dark and turn it into a bastardized giallo!

Frankie Avalon, believe it or not, is pretty good as the smarmy and sarcastic Chris, obviously taking a little time to step out on Annette for a bit of British tail.  This may seem like an odd vehicle for the man most revered for his series of beach movies, but if you take the murder angle out of the equation, it kind of makes sense.

The beach films pandered to a young, pampered audience who was seeking some sort of rebellion, and with the saccharine Big Kahuna and his eternal mate, they found a safe sort of rebellion--one that even their parents could get behind.  With the beach kids abundance of slang, bongos, and "wild" parties, they were, in essence, Hollywood's version of a homogenized Beat Generation.  Just nevermind the fact that there were few, if any, beatniks that surfed, and the real surfers were surely closer in manner to Sean Penn's Spicolli than these well-tanned wannabes.

Over in London, they didn't have surfers.  What they did have were mods, sort of their equivalent of the beatniks.  With the Beatles and the British Invasion, American teens were becoming enamored with their cousins across the pond, so dropping a box office hunk of man meat like Frankie Avalon right into the middle of this film would guarantee at least some semblance of a built-in audience here in the states.

So, yes, The Haunted House of Horror is extremely dated.  But that's part of its charm.  It is at times corny and occasionally slow.  There's no denying that.  But no matter what is happening on screen, you have to admit one thing:

There is always--ALWAYS--something nice to look at.

ALSO KNOWN AS: Horror House; The Dark

Rated PG
92 Minutes
United Kingdom

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