Starring Miriam Hopkins, John David Garfield, Virginia Wing, Gale Sondergaard
Directed by Donald Wolfe
Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome
Hollywood is filled with delusional people, from the hordes of homeless to the plethora of actors waiting tables convinced that Big Break is right around the corner – it is a place where artifice is king and the truth is a tough commodity to come by. Hollywood Horror House (a.k.a. Savage Intruder, 1970) brings together two wildly out-of-orbit personalities when the aging and reclusive former movie star Katharine Packard (Miriam Hopkins) finds herself in the company of a new assistant, Vic Valance (John David Garfield), who, unbeknownst to her, is also a local murderer being sought by police. While Katharine yearns to be back in the spotlight her normal keepers know better than the let her cut loose because the old lady has a serious drinking problem. But Vic, whose only interests are money and power, wants to bleed the aging starlet dry both figuratively and literally, gaslighting her to remain close and showing her the “good time” friends know she should avoid.
Drawing from the past, the influence of films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Psycho (1960) is obvious, with Katharine playing a Norma Desmond type while Vic, with his traumatic my-mother-was-a-whore childhood is the spitting image of Norman Bates. Looking forward about a decade, this film could have easily held some influence for director William Lustig when making Maniac (1980), as it, too, explores a toxic adolescence in similar ways. The funny thing is, unlike Joe Spinell’s Frank Zito Vic isn’t a charming guy. I was amazed he got hired at all because his attitude screams “I will fuck this up in short order” but because he’s “the fun guy” to Katharine, and she who has the gold makes the rules, Vic is quickly ushered into her upper echelon and given the keys to the kingdom. Katharine is completely blind to his behavioral woes, endless chastising, and casual racism. He is a true sociopath is every way.
Donald Wolfe is given sole credit as writer and director and it seems like his story gets away at times, unfolding so slowly as to have the audience wondering where he plans to end things. A bit more judicious editing could have tightened up the pacing because much of the film works very well. Vic’s needle-induced trips to the Land of Nod, wherein he relives the horror of his mother’s debaucherous lifestyle, are hallucinatory and deliver a compelling case for why he’s such a maniac. The most chilling moments are when Vic appears affable and genuine only for his true nature to come out and the pretense is dropped like a sack of bricks.
The third act is when this manage to take an even creepier turn, and without spoiling anything I’ll only say it evoked the same kind of chilling effect the opening of When a Stranger Calls (1979) produced for me – which is not to suggest there are story similarities; just a vibe. Wolfe does well in sending his characters into a situation which we, the audience, know will be grave and the process of getting there builds an appreciable level of tension. Prior to this viewing I had never heard of this picture under either title and the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome have once again done a fine job giving new life to a forgotten feature.
I don’t mind sounding like a broken record in saying this is yet another high quality home video release from Vinegar Syndrome. The 1.85:1 1080p image was derived from a 4K scan of the original camera negative and the results are extraordinary. I often find it unfathomable how VS is able to produce such beautiful transfers while other, larger companies in the same circle struggle to find the same consistency. The picture here is stable and crisp, with fantastic definition, full & vivid color reproduction, great contrast, and a healthy sheen of that sweet film grain. The Packard house is a mammoth, filled with ornate furnishings and textures and every nook & cranny is finely detailed. Just spectacular.
An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track capably gets the audible job done, with no hissing or pops present and all dialogue properly centered and given good levels. The score by composer Stu Phillips (who wrote the iconic theme to “Knight Rider” (1982-1984)!) is a classic, jazzy ensemble with punctual cues and an air of Old Hollywood. Subtitles are available in English.
- Audio commentary with David DeCoteau of RapidHeart.TV and David Del Valle of Sinister Image.com
- Promo Image Gallery
Largely unseen for most of its life, Hollywood Horror House is a sharp thriller with an interesting story that occasionally loses its way but once that footing is regained the ending it delivers sticks with you. Vinegar Syndrome continue to champion the underdogs of cult cinema and this is yet another solid release.