John Stephen Hill
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Bloodbath at the House of Death (1084)
6th Aug 08
A group of specialists investigate unusually high radiation levels at a spooky house called Headstone Manor.
Back in the mid-80s, UK comedy legend Kenny Everett was on fire. Indulging in a sideline of video releases deemed "too rude" for airing on the BBC, it seemed inevitable that the collective talent (and ego) of the Everett ensemble would have a stab at moviemaking. So that's exactly what happened in 1984 when Everett, series director/writer Ray Cameron and writer/comic Barry Cryer took it upon themselves to make the brilliantly entitled horror spoof, Bloodbath at the House of Death. But alas, the movie failed miserably at the box office, it was critically panned, and everyone involved in the project lost money (as well as some of their reputation). But apart from that, it was a complete success.
Maybe UK audiences weren't ready for something as outrageous as a British horror spoof, even if it starred Kenny's very familiar face. Perhaps they found it difficult to relate to a new Everett persona, Dr. Lukas Mandeville. There's also a chance that the '18' certificate, placed on the movie because of the nudity and gore, also damaged box-office attendance. It could also be down to the fact that comedy reactions are often very relative - what seems funny to one man doesn't to the next. Whatever the reason, it bombed, but has since garnered a considerable cult following on VHS.
The action kicks off at Headstone Manor - Businessman's Weekend Retreat and Girls Summer Camp - in 1975, where a group of mysterious monks armed with meat cleavers advance towards the residence. Once inside, one of them quickly goes for a piss, then they proceed to massacre everyone within, using a variety of methods (skewering, slitting, hanging, freezing, and I'm pretty sure at least one poor punter simply "blew up"). Cut to the present day, and Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Everett), along with Dr. Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stevenson) are driving along a country road, whereupon Mandeville quickly explains to us, the audience, that they have been sent to the house to investigate strange levels of radioactivity as part of a top secret government mission. Soon they stop at a local pub to ask for directions, where they are met with the traditional rural greeting of silence and staring from the locals, who all seem to bear the same strange triangular mark on their hands.
Upon arriving at Headstone Manor, they meet with six more paranormal experts who range from very gay men to a young bimbo you'll no doubt remember from The Kenny Everett Show. Soon after we are introduced to 'The Sinister Man' (Vincent Price), self-professed "right hand of Belzebub", and his cloaked followers, who appear to be hell bent on returning the dark father to the world. Or something. Meanwhile, back at Headstone Manor, Mandeville reveals that he was once a famous German surgeon, complete with ze German accent and everyzing, while downstairs, Ms. Finch presents her big machine which monitors paranormal activity. And yes, it does have a lot of flashing lights and buttons which do absolutely nothing. Which is probably why, three fart gags later, Vincent Price has been accidentally set on fire by his hapless disciples. Then, doppelgangers of all the experts appear, routinely killing off their human counterparts, thus ridding the house of human presence.
For every five Dracula Dead and Loving its there is a Young Frankenstein. While BATHOD isn't as awful as the former, it's by no means a patch on something like Mel Brooks' finest moment. But it does have a lot of laughs if you're in the right mood. It will of course also help if you know a bit about the genre, being able to spot the many references and influences on show, including Carrie, Alien and Jaws, as well as any horror movie which features the oft-used 'blood pouring out of the taps' routine. In one scene, John Fortune is cautiously walking around the house at night...tension mounts as the threatening (and somewhat familiar) cello score spells imminent horror, then he opens the door to find Kenny Everett sat on the loo playing the actual score we're hearing on the cello. If this type of humour doesn't make you giggle, it's probably not the movie for you.
One of strongest assets is without question the presence of horror legend of the golden age, the late Vincent Price. His role as 'The Sinister Man' is probably the most consistently entertaining of the entire movie and there's something almost moving about watching him send up the traditions he is responsible for (which he also did around the same time in The Monster Club). Dressed in a long red robe and cursed with an army of grossly incompetent acolytes at his side, he revels in his evil prowess with aplomb, always which a cheeky glint in his eye. You really haven't lived until you've witnessed Vincent Price utter the words, "Piss off? For seven hundred years I've served our master...you piss off!". Comedy gold, right there.
Don Warrington (Rising Damp) and Gareth Hunt (bean-shaker in 80s Nescafe ads) feature as a queer couple, but this being a 1984 British horror spoof, their characters are completely defined by their sexuality, and it gets a little tedious after a while. In fact, I was hoping Gareth Hunt would find some coffee beans and shake them about the place, but alas it wasn't meant to be. Billy Connolly's other half Pamela Stevenson also features as the Łber-toff Dr Barbara Coyle with a bizarre lisp, so pronounced in fact that it becomes increasingly irritating. But all is forgiven when she disrobes and thrashes about on the bed with an unseen force.
As for the star of the show, Everett is having a lot of fun in the role. He ploughs through the scenery with a mechanical leg which he uses to great effect, but boy does he get some mileage out of it! Kicking door frames, tables, as well other cast members throughout, he wrecks havoc in the house of death, and watch out for his tour-de-force re-enactment of John Hurt's chest burster scene in Alien, merely a result of trapped wind. This is totally in keeping with the general tone of humour throughout.
BATHOD's level of gore must have been enough to earn an '18' certificate in 1984 (now reclassified '15'), but it seems relatively tame by today's standards. That said, some victims do end up being disposed of in increasingly bizarre ways - one character gets decapitated by a can opener while another is mauled by a mole. Which is nice.
Sophisticated this certainly ain't, and despite the fact that I was trying to admit to myself that the majority of the comedy wasn't really working, I found myself laughing all the way to the bank. It's the kind of movie so loaded with gags that it's impossible to have a 100% hit rate, but when the good stuff works it really hits home. Barry Cryer probably had finer moments, but it's worth seeing for his camero at the beginning as the police inspector standing at the entrance to the house, completely unaware of the blood dripping on his head from a severed head on the ledge above - if ever there was proof that repetition of any gag just makes it funnier, then this is it.
BATHOD is certainly not for all tastes, but if you like horror send-ups, especially ones supported by a top-notch cast, and you don't mind a fart gag or six, then this is for you. If you haven't seen this since the eighties, you can probably add a star to this review rating.
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