The House Where Evil Dwells is just such a Killer J-Horror flick which seems to fit perfectly inline with any given US J-Horror Remake. You've got your old Japanese House in which three people died in a powerful rage, only to haunt said house and its subsequent tenants. You've got your Sexually Virile Gaijin visitors who move into the house, only to be taunted, tortured and killed by the grudge-holding ghosts. You've even got your lovely Japanese girl submerged in dark waters pulling people down into the depths with her. Yep, I got your J-Horror flick swinging, folks!
One area of note here... The House Where Evil Dwells didn't grace us with its dubious presence in the late 90s or early 00s. No, this one snuck on and off of movie screens way back in 1982, over a year before the similarly prescient Amityville 3D was meted upon the world.
I should know... I saw it way back when... soon after it was forgotten on the silver screen and had become a late night staple of HBO... back when they were still claiming "HBO will show this feature, only at night!" Man did this flick ever creep me out. My older cousin and I (the same cousin who had me watch Alien with her when I was five) gasped and jumped at the amazing imagery in this movie, imagery which stayed with me much longer than the title did.
While I may not have taste to save my life, I do have a memory longer than Gojira's tail, so just recently I started seeking this film out with almost as much energy as I devote to picking out my socks in the morning. Luckily I was bored at work one day, plugged the keyword "Samurai" into IMDB and clicked on every link that listed a date between 1978 and 1985. And I found it. The House Where Evil Dwells. And I also found that it's pretty well universally derided as a piece of bland Teriyaki.
The story is damned interesting, I'll give it that. Back in the Nineteenth Century a Samurai named Shigero (Toshiya Maruyama) comes home from work one day to find his hotter than Mustard Sauce wife Otami (Mako Hattori, whom we see naked) getting it on with one of his own students (Tsuiyuki Sasaki's Masanori). Naturally, Mr. Samurai-man freaks out like someone just told him that he was drinking Folgers' Crystals or something, chops Gakusee-san into little bitty pieces, then dispatches wifey-poo in a similar manner, just before introducing Mr. Katana to Mr. Intestines.
A hundred years go by and businessman Alex Curtis (Doug McClure) has just invited his homeboy journalist Ted Fletcher (Laurence Olivier's godson Edward Laurence Albert), his hot wife Laura (Prince Charles' Ex-Girlfriend Susan George, whom we see naked) and their daughter Amy (Amy Barrett) on out to Old Nihon for a working holiday. Three guesses which house he puts them in. Slowly, but surely, the three (newly transparent) ghosts insinuate themselves into the lives of this little group, learning how to influence and possess them, and ultimately how to reenact that fateful night. Are they turning Japanese? I really think so!
Sound interesting? It is. For about the first half hour.
Beyond that it gets so Corn Dog, I was trying desperately to avoid the stick. First up is the complete implausibility of the plot. No, not ghosts coming back to haunt and possess white people... that happens in every damned movie these days. No, I mean how in the name of Gammera could a hot biscuit like Laura cheat on her handsome, long-haired, romantic, loving husband Ted with a lumpy, bloated goof sixteen years her hubby's senior like Alex? Man, she'd have to be Possessed! That would be like my wife cheating on me with Tim Russertt.
There is a very cool special effect that is used with the ghosts. The three main Japanese actors are filmed, then matted into the scene in a transparent blue, reminiscent of a Star Wars Hologram. At first this is used subtly, and it's interesting to note how well the ghosts interact with the living. However, after a while this just gets corny as the "really there" actors have to fight with and leap toward the apparitions with the approximate seamlessness of the first Roger Rabbit flick. Worse, instead of just being ghosts, apparently there is some garish make-up artist in the after world who has a propensity for making these ghosts look like actors in the Gas Light Players' Terror Show.
The curiosity here is just why this took so darned long. I'm sure there's some better explanation in James Hardiman's novel (upon which Robert Suhosky based his screenplay), but just where these punk-ass poltergeists get off spending half the movie turning the water faucets off and on, and flipping light switches is beyond me. Are these scary ghosts, or just irritating, freeloading houseguests?
Further, one must wonder just why the hell signs like this don't amount to a hill of rice for the Fletcher family who seem smart enough to know better. Observe: As soon as they find out where they're staying, they're told the place is Haunted. They move in anyway. Immediately, ghostly things start to happen. The result is "That's rather odd, isn't it, honey?" The ghosts go as far as to display the fact that they could pretty well skewer them at any time by driving a Samurai Sword into Teddy Bear's table while he's writing and he seems merely perturbed. Even after the deadly earnest in which the ghosts mean to play is revealed the young couple still stays in the house just bitching and moaning about the fact that it's haunted and they could all die at any second. Why? Because Ted hasn't finished the article he's writing yet. Folks, get a motel room, go to a library, sleep in a Kyoto alley. The "For God's Sake Get Out!" factor is at around nine billion by this point. This is why honkeys in horror flicks always get preyed upon... they're just asking for it.
Sadly, this film does end up coming off as another Amityville "homage" either because of director Kevin Connor's best efforts, or in spite of them. In truth, though, it's not all that bad. The acting doesn't particularly suck, and while the ideas don't seem to spring fully formed to the screen, those ideas are at least good, and relatively unique.
At least that's what I thought until the "Crab Sequence". Shave me if I'm lying, this is almost as bad as the broom-in-the-ass that was the "Tarantula Sequence" from Fulci's The Beyond. A bunch of nasty little crabs invade the house to scare Amy and Noriko (the babysitter, played by Mayumi Umeda). Two of these crabs are almost as big as Anna Nicole's twin sweater-bombs, and look, and move, like wind-up toys. I don't want to seem even stupider, dear readers, so I'm not willing to comment on whether these were wind-up toys made to look like crabs, or actual crabs made to look like wind up toys, but these looked almost as fake as Anna Nicole's twin sweater-bombs! The funniest thing was the sound, though. To make sure you knew these were possessed by the evil spirits of the house (or maybe just to indicate that the adulterous lovers "had crabs") you can hear the little crab voices speaking in the voices of Shigero and Masanori. This is done with the approximate subtlety of jackhammer-oriented dentistry. It's quiet for a second then "BOO, Moo Goo Gai Pan!" Man, these ghosts may hate each other, and hate the living, but they sure know how to animate a crab.
Which brings up another point... the three ghosts sure do work well together for three grudge-holders. I mean, while in their ghostly forms being chased around (like a rehearsal for the opening sequence of The Banana Splits) in their house they sure seem to be on the same team. Why the hell do they keep repeating the same crap? Seems like by now they're a well-oiled haunting machine. Why not take this act on the road, or possess some bodies and win a few rounds of Blackjack, smoke a joint and get stupid? That's what I'd do... Actually, not the joint... I'd probably try to sleep with Otami as much as possible instead, and I'd want all my lucidity for that experience.
And therein lies the reason that this movie is "not all bad". The women. Susan George looks fantastic naked, and doesn't seem too terribly shy about making sure there's no question about this. There isn't! For all Susan's heat, Mako Hattori is even hotter, and is equally as naked. I really wasn't offended by that fact. Otami is the only ghost who has the decency to take corporeal form to try to seduce and/ or confuse the Tedenator. Does she HAVE to get topless to do this? No, she doesn't, which makes it all the more beautiful and selfless a gesture on her part. Why aren't all unstuck spirits this thoughtful?
It's just too bad I can't buy the rest of this flick worth a gosh darn. I actually rather like it, in a guilty pleasure sort of way, and I'm still happy to have this one brought to DVD Fruition after so many years of... well, idle curiosity at best. True, I'm not disappointed. True, The House Where Evil Dwells is still not that good... but it beats the hell out of a lot of crap out there. That's the problem with watching as many bad movies as I do... sometimes even minor pre-J-Horror like this doesn't seem all that terrible. Two and One Half Stars out of Five for The House Where Evil Dwells, a movie I'm shocked as Ready Kilowatt hasn't been remade along side Pulse, Ringu, Dark Water and Ju-On. Hell, most of them, including this one and that little snippet of Amityville 3D are based on the same one or two Japanese Folk Legends anyway... why not go for broke and remake 'em all as one big fat The Dark House Where Pulsing Ghosts held a Grudge against the Ring Bearers of The Kushiataville Horror IN 3D!!!. I'd probably watch it... but then again, I think it's clear to everyone out there that I like crap.
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