Directed by Maury Dexter
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
The Sixties in general were a really interesting decade for our beloved genre. Movies were all the rage. Double features, triple features, drive-in theatres, it didn’t get much cooler. You just couldn’t make a horror movie fast enough in those days, and boy, oh boy, did the public consume. Hundreds, maybe thousands of horror titles flooded cinemas of every kind. Some were classic, and some were . . . well, a different kind of classic. Sadly, a lot of these old gems are either lost or will never see the light of day on home video. Or at least that’s what one would assume. It’s for that very reason I am so jazzed to see a big studio like Fox go back through its huge library and kick out some cool-ass old flicks that I never thought I would see agan.
Meet Scott and Nancy Campbell, two surveyors hired to check out an abandoned castle for their good friend, Joe. The duo jump at the chance to do a bit of work at the now infamous Rochester Estate, and not just because of the pay. That’s indeed part of it, but who wouldn’t want to spend some time in a castle?! I’d be the first schmuck there lookin’ for the suits of armour and feedin’ the alligators in the moat. Incidentally, there were no suits of armour or alligators in the film so color me a bit disappointed from the get-go.
What they do find is a huge and drafty old place with about fifty rooms, all of which are opened by — wait for it – wait … for … it — one of thirteen keys! *insert stinger music cue and comical gasp here* The situation starts gettin’ strange for the pair in a hurry as things start disappearing and doors start opening and closing by themselves. But who, or what, are their tormentors? Ghosts? Monsters? Squatters? Neither! Our twosome are being troubled by (also spoiled on the back of the DVD box) circus freaks.
Circus freaks? What happened to the “living dead” who — according to the box — were waiting to be “unleashed”? Is John Russo going to film new footage and splice the ghouls into the existing print? Did I simply just put in the wrong DVD? The answer is no on all counts. We’ve been lied to. Victims of the old bait and switch. What we have here, folks, plays like a sort of dietetic version of the Todd Browning classic Freaks. Most of our favorite deformed friends are here: the legless man and woman, the fat lady, and a barely legal and shirtless Richard “Jaws” Kiel as The Giant. All that’s missing is good ol’ Schlitzy! These oddities do manage to stir up some genuine creeps here and there, but House of the Damned falls into the same little pitfall that a lot of movies from this era do — the all too happy ending. Our resolve boils down to nothing more than having to listen to one of the carnies prattle on about shit like “We didn’t mean you any harm. We just wanted to scare you. This is our home.” No catchy “One of Us” song, no screaming murderous midget of German decent, and definitely no turning anyone into chicken people. Yep. They just wanted to hang around and occasionally pop out to say “Boo!”
Sigh. How I long for yesteryear.
There’s nothing exceptional about House of the Damned. I’m not even sure who the Damned are. It’s just your average cookie-cutter chiller. Still, with a run time of just over an hour, you don’t have much time to complain. This flick has one purpose, and that is to offer up some goofy fun at a really brisk pace. You could do a hell of a lot worse.
To their credit, Fox even managed to add on a couple of extras. We don’t get much, but hell, given the obscurity of the movie, I’m surprised we got anything at all. Included in this package are a poster gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The aforementioned trailer asks the question “Dare you enter the House of the Damned?” Hey, Fox! You’re damned right I dare! And I’ll watch any other movie you’ve got hidden away in your vaults as well should you choose to dust them off. Bring ’em on!
2 1/2 out of 5