What do you get if you cross a giallo with SCOOBY DOO? Well, I’d imagine you’d get something very close to this entertaining mish-mash of gothic horror, giallo hi-jinks and old-style thriller.
Most 70s gialli were decidedly modern affairs, with the film makers preferring to place their black gloves and fedoras on urban maniacs terrorizing the rich and beautiful glitterati. MURDER MANSION, however, harks back to the slightly creakier offerings like James Whale’s OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and the brooding gothic horrors popular in Italian cinema in the 60s, from the likes of Bava and Margheriti. Employing such hoary old devices, like the fog bound night and the rambling mansion, MURDER MANSION has a group of seemingly unconnected strangers converging on an isolated house after they become lost.
A beautiful heiress, Elsa (Analía Gadé), on the way to pick up her husband, crashes her car just outside a spooky cemetery, where she is hunted through the fog by two silent figures: an old woman, and a tall hulking chauffeur. Her screams are heard by a young couple, Fred (Andre Resino) and Laura (Anna Lisa Nardi), who comes to her rescue, but find no trace of the phantom figures. However, they are already spooked: having nearly been run down by a Rolls Royce driven by what could have been the mystery chauffeur; not to mention asking directions from a man in a black cloak carrying a bloody great scythe! Laura remarks, as the fog gets even thicker, “I keep feeling we are on another planet!”.
Seemingly, their luck changes when they spot a light. Approaching it they find themselves outside a large mansion, and when they knock they are answered by a man, Mr Porter who had previously that day nearly run Fred off the road and had tried to feel up Laura. They are taken aback because he’s carrying a gun, which he explains he has as he had spied a tall stranger dressed as a chauffeur trying to break into the mansion when he got there with Mr and Mrs Tremont (friends of Elsa, who were involved in a car accident in the fog with Mr Porter) …. [Are you keeping up? You better had, or you’ll go loopy!] … Now, as if all this wasn’t unlikely enough, they are finally joined by the owner of the house, the beautiful Marta (Evelyn Stewart), who tells them that they better give up any hope of finding their way to town tonight, as the fog is too thick. Above the fireplace hangs a picture, which looks like Marta, she explains that it is a picture of her Aunt, a self-proclaimed witch who died back in 1942 when her chauffeur (!) driven car was involved in a fatal car accident. Not exactly helping her reluctant guests feel at ease, Marta also tells them that the nearby village is deserted because all the inhabitants fled years ago because of the fear of vampires!
Everyone tries to make the best of it by retiring to get some shut-eye. Not that easy considering that each room in the house sports paintings of hell by Heronimous Bosch! For what seems like an eternity, characters wander around the mansion checking on each other like a giallo version of the goodnight calls in the Waltons. However, not all is as it seems and someone, or something, else stalks the halls of the Murder Mansion …
Despite being creakier than a marathon run by arthritis sufferers, this gothic giallo is actually quite good fun, and whilst the central mystery is as hokey as they come it’s still intriguing enough to keep you hooked throughout. It goes without saying that nothing is what it seems, not with a huge inheritance up for grabs. There are liberal steals from past gothic horrors of yore, especially Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (1963), with characters being menaced by ghostly specters and severed heads floating out of closets. As with the best SCOOBY DOO mysteries, people wander down darkened corridors with just the light from a faltering candle to see by, secret passageways swing open and at least one latex mask is pulled off during a fight. The film is a Spanish and Italian co-production; it’s gothic nature perhaps being due to the kind of films popular in Spain in the 70s, most notably Paul Naschy’s monster mashes.
Regular giallo watchers will spot a few veteran faces, including Evelyn Stewart, who went on to star in Umberto Lenzi’s A KNIFE OF ICE (1972). Plus, George Rigaud, who cameo’s as Elsa’s Father, and seems to be as ubiquitous as J&B whiskey in the subgenre – having mugged his way through THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1972) and EYEBALL (1975), amongst many others.
Despite some rather pointless flashbacks, which hint at incest but never really goes anywhere with it, and a rather ho-hum finale, there are much worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with this enjoyable little potboiler.
female:2 / male:3
1) Male dies of a heart attack
2) Female found hung with throat cut
3) Male shot
4) Female shot and falls into a fire
5) Male shot repeatedly