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[f]Feature[/h]
In a quiet corner of the British countryside lies Headstone Manor, once the site of a series of grisly murders where eighteen innocent victims met their demise in a multitude of ways one fateful night. Eight years later, a group of disparate scientists descend upon the house to unlock its strange secrets - but an evil religious sect plan to stop them as all Hell breaks loose and the body-count starts to rise again.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
There are some films which can magically transport you back to a fond time and place, with even just the artwork on the original video box triggering just such an inner journey. Bloodbath at the House of Death is one of them for us, as one glimpse of the sleeve sends us back to our old haunt, Star Videos, circa 1985. This was always out on the “Horror” shelf, marked with a small red sticker to denote that it was gory—obviously the fact that it was a comedy didn’t come into it, but the vivid image of Kenny Everett on the front sends the mind reeling at the crazy stuff contained on the tape within. The VHS release became highly prized as the title slipped between the cracks of the format, and it took us years to finally catch up with the movie when a rare screening surfaced on something like Bravo about ten years ago.

The combination of flat-out comedy and horror in a British movie is a rare thing, with most attempts favouring the more subtle approach at winking towards the audience rather than making jokes, but today there are any number of such hybrids choking up the shelves as they give gross-outs & giggles. Back in the early 80s, things were very different, and when Kenny Everett & his writing/directing partners decided to use his hugely successful TV shows to make some serious money, they used Everett’s love of gore and gags as the mission-statement.  Therein lies a very curious movie…

Bloodbath at the House of Death
While a rather funny running joke about with the POV slasher being whacked in the face by various branches and bushes lets you know that things are being played strictly for laughs, the opening slaughter of the infamous eighteen victims (with the exception of a few shots) are surprisingly brutal in their execution, and would have run into trouble with the BBFC if included in a “straight” horror movie—almost as though Bava’s Bay of Blood (ironically titled Bloodbath on its original UK release) had all of its murderous set pieces condensed into a single, hyper-violent sequence. It throws the audience off-balance and makes the laughs easier to generate as tension leads to giggles—and as impressive a start to a comedy horror as we’ve seen.

The casting is something of a time-capsule for the era, with many familiar faces thrown together in a grouping with wouldn’t normally have occurred. While Cleo Roccos was a given for appearing in a film with Kenny Everett, the choice to have ex New Avenger (and cheap coffee purveyor) Gareth Hunt playing a homosexual scientist was either odd or inspired. Topping this was picking Don Warrington as his partner—in every sense. Warrington was still licking his wounds from all of the good work in Rising Damp being capped by a mediocre movie without the late Richard Beckinsale, so he must have wanted to do something completely different to keep his comedy career on the boil. Pamela Stephenson was a high-flying comedy god at the time, with her work on Not the Nine O’Clock News destroying all irreverent comedy which had come before—possibly even Everett ’s—and could have gone a long way to explaining why there was a lack of camaraderie on the set.  Also of note is the appearance of one half of satirical comedy double-act, The Long Johns, back in the days when his services didn‘t cost a Fortune…

Bloodbath at the House of Death
Vincent Price has relatively little screen-time, but when he does appear, he brightens up the movie considerably. Price was an actor who threw himself into any role that he accepted and never seemed to have a presence that would lead viewers to suspect that he was beneath the movie he was appearing him. There are few, if any, instances in his career where Vinnie delivered anything other than a solid, yet camp, performance, yet didn’t get enough chances to display his flair for outright comedy, his appearance on The Muppet Show notwithstanding. Much like Christopher Lee, he probably wanted to use his comic abilities more than he got to do so, but was always offered “horror” roles instead. Here Vinnie outstrips the material he’s given, and manages to make it funnier than it might have been if anyone else read the gags aloud. Undoubtedly, Price raises the biggest laugh in the whole movie when he is delivering a sermon to his dark disciples at a black mass, stretching his arms wide in a beckoning gesture to his evil God, quickly followed by “Ow, shit, my hand! Stupid bloody candles!” as his fingers accidentally make contact with the flickering flame.

For pure surrealism, you can’t beat the sequence where the demonic hoards are making their way through the forest, chanting all manner of satanic verse as they go, but eventually breaking into a chorus of “Daisy, Daisy” before a scowl from Vinnie sets them back to their devilish incantations.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
Bringing a touch of old-time UK class is the casting of Graham Stark as the local blind-man. As anyone with a passing knowledge of British comedy will know, he was a long-time friend and collaborator with Peter Sellers, appearing as Clouseau’s partner in A Shot in the Dark, along with other characters in further entries in the Pink Panther series. Stark plays the material for all he is worth, delivering more chuckles than any other single cast member, and is testament to his abilities. It’s worth noting that the he also played a comedic blind-man that same year in Superman III, but as fans of Donner’s work, we’d rather not drag that pile of shit up again. Speaking of Richard Lester’s fumbling, you might spot that one of the locals in the pub (which bears a passing resemblance to a certain watering-hole in An American Werewolf in London) is none other than Gordon Rollings, the guy who throws away his tea when he sees General Zod walking on water, not to mention the face of John Smiths during the 80s. This is the same person who gets a pie in the face at the end of the opening slapstick sequence in the aforementioned Superman III... Small industry, innit?  

Fans of the horror genre will be the first to notice that there is a working knowledge of the genre which is used to dissect it, paradoxically contrasting with an over-reliance on flatulence gags. The later Friday the 13th films became mired in the practise of establishing characters with a scant few lines of dialogue, with a few cardboard cut-outs eventually being “done” with only a single utterance to mirror their entire psyche. Writers Cryer & Cameron bring their lead characters in two-at-a-time, using exactly the same blocking of shots whist they roll off their character traits whilst delivering expository dialogue about the plot. Whilst repetitive after the third time, it is nevertheless and ingenious and accurate spoof of this element of “slasher” movies.  Oh, and brownie-points to the guys for their perfect recreation of the axe-killing from Friday the 13th during the pre-credits sequence!

Being something of a distraction at times is that director Cameron’s “meat” being the medium of television (and previously comedy clubs) is evident whilst watching Bloodbath at the House of Death, as everything seems to be planned for canned laughter. There are numerous shots which run on far too long once the point has been made, leaving you to think that Cameron was either doing it subconsciously as though he was still directing an episode of Everett’s TV show, or possibly that he expected the gags in the movie to be more well-received than they were.  There are few instances where the entire creative team of a popular comedy show is able to successfully translate to the big screen, with only the team of Paul Hogan/Ken Shadie/John Cornell/Peter Faiman really coming through when they made Crocodile Dundee.  It goes without saying that Everett, Cryer and Cameron were unable to capture lightning in a bottle with their efforts.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
The effects in the film vary quite alarmingly, and this polarisation comes when looking at the practical one and those optical in nature. On the physical side of things, heads are lopped off, limbs lost and the blood flows with an efficiency which might have given the BBFC cause for concern at the time, all the product of some very skilled makeup guys. The wire-work with the poltergeist sticking it to Pamela Stephenson is ingenious in its execution, and provides a sense of reality which would have been absent if done with CGI.  

We also have to make special mention of the pyrotechnic devilry seen in the film, as they really are quite impressive, but where the FX fall down is anything done in post. The effect used for making Headstone Manor glow with a mysterious light are so primitive that Roger Corman might have blanched at using it in one of his Poe movies twenty years earlier. The final gag (which we won’t spoil) might have worked a damn-sight better if they had not resorted to the same kind of animated substitute for an actress which dogged the stripper sequence in The Monster Club. Even the lightning strike which killed two in the infamous massacre is spoiled by poor effects-work, leaving the viewer uncertain as to what they just saw. Quite disappointing.

One thing which even the sternest of critics will have a hard time disputing is that the music score is dead-on in every respect. It serves as a pastiche of typical horror music, deployed with commitment when required, but keeping an upbeat, contemporary touch to constantly remind viewers that there is a sly wink involved. As aficionados of movie soundtracks, were have admired the work of Mike Moran in Time Bandits, where he concocted the perfect mix of pomposity and whimsy, but best of all was his contribution to Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker’s Top Secret, where he produced the terrific pastiches of The Beach Boys and Elvis.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
One sequence indulges Everett ’s love of gross-out humour, detailing how his promising medical career hit the wall when he accidentally removes a good portion of a patient’s internal organs, finally losing his mind and throwing bloody innards at the hoards laughing at his mishap. It’s interesting that this piece plays very similarly to a scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and while the “donor” skit in Terry Jones’ film is much more professionally executed, Kenny & the boys beat the Oxbridge mob to the punch on this one.

Something which might go some way to justifying to the missus that spending the evening watching a movie called Bloodbath at the House of Death is a good thing comes when a cute lil’ teddy bear comes to murderous life. We all know that the furry sods can be downright creepy, but Kenny & the gang pull it off so well that it makes for a both cool and surreal sequence, metal claws eerily growing as it gets up and stalks its’ prey. Now if only they could do the same thing with a Me-to-You bear and maybe it will put certain fanatics of the blue-nosed git off of buying those bloody expensive ornaments/dust-magnets.

One depressing element to the film is its previously-noted over-reliance on fart-gags. We’re all for them when deployed correctly, with both purpose and timing, but to keep using them as a comedic crutch—let alone creating entire scenes for them—leads you to suspect that ideas were a little thin on the ground. A good example is the sequence which spoofs John Hurt’s bout of terminal indigestion from Alien, where Everett starts spitting food in a familiar manner as his stomach bulges in an unnatural fashion. After what seems an eternity hammering home the reference, a fart sound is dubbed on and the swelling subsides, to the relief of all concerned. If this was integrated into a scene which contained exposition relating to the plot, then it wouldn’t have stuck out so much, but it the fart gag is the be-all-and-end-all of the scene, and pornographic dragging out of the joke only serves to kill it stone dead. OK, the fart gag with Don Warrington in the car is pretty amusing, but mainly because we have always thought that his haughty demeanour is the result of permanently having a fart under his nose.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
In contrast, one particular sequence highlights how the film can sometimes work perfectly. Just take a look at when Everett & Stephenson go down into the bowels of Headstone Manor, encountering a number of horrors of both the supernatural & the verbal kind. The wonderfully eerie set is complemented by a series of cricket-related gags which work superbly, be they visual or verbal. This leads into a key scene which explains the nature of the evil infesting the house, and has more than a touch of Inferno about it, and with Argento’s second entry into his trilogy not long out at the time, this is probably intentional. It’s a shame that more of the movie wasn’t more atmosphere-based like this scene, as it is more rewarding for an audience than a series of pop-culture spoofs which have little to do with the plot.

There is another sequence early on where Everett and Stephenson enter a seemingly frosty parochial pub—based, as mentioned above, on American Werewolf in London—and eventually rally the locals around by trying to remember just how all the people met their deaths during the movie’s opening slaughter—this results in everyone singing the grisly details to the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas.  Again, it’s funny stuff and a pointer of how the film could have scored more bulls-eyes if more care had been taken with their creative aim.

If you have read this far, you will have surmised that Bloodbath at the House of Death is by no means a perfect film; it has many problems—arguably the biggest of which is that it was obviously meant as a vehicle for Kenny Everett, but Kuddly Ken’s effervescent personality was more suited to television. On the big screen, he suddenly becomes merely part of an ensemble group rather than the lead actor he was intended to be. Curious also was the choice to have Kenny planning a character distinctly more subdued than his numerous television personas. The television screen could hardly contain some of his most famous characters, including Cupid Stunt and Marcel Wave, but when given a larger canvas to occupy, Everett seems lost and subdued—the character of Dr Lukas Mandeville is as far removed from anything seem on either his Thames or BBC television programmes as you can get, which probably disappointed many of his fans.

Bloodbath at the House of Death
Indeed, Barry Cryer recently said that Kenny Everett was not actually a comedian, and in many ways, he is correct—Everett never went to Footlights or any other such place to hone his comedic talents; he was just a Scouser who worked his way up the ladder via radio.  This results in a dearth of subtlety in his performances, which were fine when in his TV and radio sketches, but almost as if to compensate for his shortcomings as a comedy actor, Everett gives his character an OTT limp and, during one section, slips into the same German accent he used to voice his Dr Heinrich Von Gitfinger from Captain Kremmen.  On a purely technical note, another instance which highlights Everett’s lack of thespian routes comes when all the cast are required to step out of their red robes at the same time. Everybody else are trained thespians, all following the same rhythm and tempo, but Kuddly Ken spoils the timing and blows the dynamics of the scene.  He would have learned from the experience if other movies had followed, we’re sure.

As we mentioned before, but can’t help pointing out again, Cleo Rocos appears in a supporting role and looks as gorgeous as ever.

The final gag is one which relied of popular culture of the time, and is a curious decision to finish a film with. Granted, the movie which it is a direct lift from is one of the most famous (and successful) of all time, but why didn’t they try and throw something together a little more original and satisfying than the one they did?  Please note that we are carefully tap-dancing around the reference in question so as not to blow the gag for those who haven’t seen it. But you could argue that for a film which provides a genuine rush of 80s comedy, it’s fitting that the movie end with something so entrenched in that particular decade. Our recommendation? Get a nice, big pizza, a bag of Wotsits and some beer for some nostalgic laughs in front of the TV.

Whatever flaws might be inherent in the film itself, there is no faulting the efforts of Nucleus Films to bring you the DVD debut of Bloodbath at the House of Death

Bloodbath at the House of Death

Video


Nucleus Films was able to get their hands upon the negatives and they are in wonderful shape—the resulting copy is about as crystal clear as you could imagine. There is precious little in the way of dirt & debris; it looks wonderfully crisp and detailed. The colours, especially the reds on the control panel and the robes look almost breathtaking. The screen-grabs speak for themselves.

Audio


The sound is perfectly functional, without really dazzling, but this is the most you can expect of a film made at the time under the conditions it was. The original Mono rendering is a little thin, but carries the audio how it was originally intended. We have always had a bit of a thing about 5.1 remixes which simply put the sound though all six speakers, and this is what the digital option does here. There is no directionality, but it has to be said that it allows a punchier quality to the audio, with a meatier sounding score and greater lows via the subwoofer. It is the preferred choice of the two, short of a Sensurround 1.1 track being added at a later date—heart attacks & lawsuits pending…

It is pleasing to note that subtitles are included for the audio-impaired—a nice touch, as such a thing is relatively uncommon for a independent DVD release.

Extras


Seeing as Bloodbath at the House of Death didn’t exactly set the box-office world on fire, one would not expect much in the way of supplementary material, but you will be pleasantly surprised with what has been included here…

Bloodbath at the House of Death
‘Running the Bloodbath’ featurette. Clocking in at around twenty-two minutes, this featurette is just wonderful. Though Kenny and director Ray Cameron are long-since deceased and several key participants, for varying reasons, do not feature, this is still an engrossingly informative piece. The main interviewees are executive producers Laurence Myers and Stuart D Donaldson, both of whom talk very frankly about the production and how it ultimately lost them a lot of money. There are also several clips from the near-mythical Kenny Everett’s Naughty Joke Box (if Nucleus Films can release this, we’d be ecstatic!), which serve to underscore the genius of Kuddly Ken. Everett himself is surprisingly well represented in this documentary, which comes courtesy of an Australian interview; Kenny talks very frankly and humbly during this interview and reinforces the fact that he was really a quiet man who only snapped into “zany” mode when necessary. Kenny (along with one of the exec producers) reveals that Pamela Stephenson (or Doctor Connelly, as she is now known) was not exactly the most amiable person on-set, with both of them describing her as “snooty”, which probably explains why her absence is felt on this documentary. Running the Bloodbath is wonderful stuff and it could be argued that this documentary is worth the money alone.  

You have not one, but two trailers included here, the UK trailer and the US one. The UK trailer features the unmistakable tones of the great voiceover artist, Bill Mitchell. Running at around two and a half minutes, this certainly gives an accurate flavour of the film. The US trailer is very similar to the UK one, but there is more emphasis on Vincent Price’s participation. This makes for an interesting example of how a movie can be tailored to suit various markets around the world.

Presented in PDF form, the script for Bloodbath is also available for your delectation, and a gallery gives the viewer access to a number of images from Bloodbath at the House of Death, including numerous posters and video covers (with the almost legendary UK Thorn/EMI cover!) and several behind-the-scenes pictures and some nice candid images of Vincent Price.

Bloodbath at the House of Death

Overall


Bloodbath at the House of Death is not the greatest movie in the world—the teaming of Kenny Everett, Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron should have worked wonderfully, but the result is a moderately entertaining movie that appeals more as a time-capsule of the period it was made in, with many comedy actors and then-topical references to other movies of the time. Kenny himself shows flashes of the brilliance with which he was blessed; Cameron and Cryer deliver a few amusing gags and Vincent Price is a joy to watch as he revels in not taking himself seriously. The documentary and the astonishing image quality of this near-forgotten movie are the strongest factors in this worldwide DVD debut from the guys at Nucleus Films—good on ya!

Oh, did we mention that Cleo Rocos is in it…?


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