[review by JA Kerswell]
Despite being made in 1980 and released at the height of the slasher movie boom in early 1981, DELUSION is stubbornly a film not of its time. Employing enough slasher movie conventions to be included here, its often funereal pacing and perverse touches perhaps make it more akin to 1970s psychodrama or even Eurocult than, say, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). However, its refusal to toe the subgenre party line (the killer’s method of dispatching victims seems defiantly contrary to genre norms) often pays off with a rather unique, quirky and twisted low-key thriller. It is also one of the few films of its time where only men fall victim to an unhinged killer.
DELUSION’s old-dark-house plot is also reminiscent of another time. A young nurse, Meredith (Patricia Pearcy), is employed as caregiver to a rich old, invalided man named Ivar Langrock (former Hollywood star Joseph Cotten in one of his last roles). Again employing methods out-of-step with then current trends, Meredith tells the story in flashback in a letter to her father informing him of her mother’s death - and this narration frames the film. One of the movie’s strengths is its eccentric characters: notably Philip (Leon Charles), Ivar’s tipsy live-in executive secretary, who meets Meredith with an offer of a glass of wine - and then explains he has drunk so much of the wine cellar dry he needs a step to get to the full bottles on the top rows!
The household is awaiting the arrival of Ivar’s 16 year old grandson Gabriel (John Dukakis); who has been away after both his parents died on a hiking trip. In the meantime, Meredith is attacked, but ultimately unharmed, by Wilfred (Patrick Pankhurst); Ivar’s other grandson who has been left mute and disturbed by some unspecified incident. In just one of the film’s gothic tropes, Wilfred has been locked away in a room; doomed to stare at visitors from his window. Rounding out the household are the somewhat sullen gardener Alex (Abraham Alvarez) and the jolly cook Duffy (Alice Nunn, who is probably best remembered now as Large Marge in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)!). Duffy greets Meredith with: “Aren’t you a pretty one. Have some granola!” Meredith is also introduced to Jeffrey (David Haywood) - Ivar’s porn-‘stached attorney and his girlfriend Pamela (Simone Griffeth).
Meredith gets on great with Ivar and things - at least to start with - begin well. However, relationships in-house begin to unravel; something only acerbated by the arrival of Gabriel (who blankly tells Meredith: “I’ve lost my parents …” Gabriels’ odd behaviour continues when he rebuffs the gift of a skateboard (he’s never heard of them!) - and asks for a gun instead. Meredith is wary but also fascinated by the 16 year old (played by a 22 year old actor) and she takes to watching him shirtless and fantasises that they have sex. Meanwhile, someone keeps letting Wilfred out of his room to attack the servants, but that ends when a mystery assailant batters him to death with a chair leg. At first his death is thought to be an accident, but Meredith isn’t so sure and teams up with Jeffrey to find the killer - but not before more people fall foul of the deadly wooden appendage …
The identity of the killer is fairly easy to piece together if you follow the perhaps not so subtle clues - and pay attention to the film’s title. But the twist is pleasingly, er, twisted. The film occasionally successfully juxtaposes the gothic trappings with the blistering Californian sunshine. Unfortunately, in the only print available, the horror/stalking sequences are murky and often difficult to make out once inside the dimly lit mansion. As usual, probably not the fault if the filmmakers but rather a victim of VHS limitations. However, the murkiness isn’t limited to the visuals. There are loose ends, such as why Wilfred is the way he is? Also, characters that appear once and are never seen again. And the significance of the chair leg as murder weapon is never explained. This may have been a budgetary issue or the relative inexperience of a first time feature director. Also, in the era of geysers of fake blood the film is almost bone dry bar a few splashes of the red stuff. Certainly nothing to give Tom Savini sleepless nights.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that DELUSION failed to find an audience on its release at the height of the so called teenie-kill or dead-teenager movie cycle. Bar the character of Gabriel (and the lesser seen Wilfred) all the other players are much older. The film plays with taboo subjects, such as incest and female sexualised idolisation of an adolescent, but not in a particularly explicit or overt manner. Certainly not to extent of other Grindhouse fayre of the time. Yet this subject matter would have probably been too risqué for widespread TV distribution either.
Patricia Pearcy gives a fascinating and nuanced performance as the nurse, who is at the same time the eyes of the audience to the eccentricities she discovers in the house and a character who has her own deeply complex issues. Pearcy is will probably best remembered by genre fans for her role in Jeff Lieberman’s nature-runs-amok opus SQUIRM (1976). Joseph Cotten - unlike some of his contemporaries in other slasher movies of the time - doesn’t phone in his limited role and gives a rounded performance. Cotten (who had been in Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941)) had carved out quite a niche in genre cinema since the early 1970s; appearing everything from Mario Bava’s BARON BLOOD (1971) to René Cardona Jr.’s infamous Jim Jones biopic GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1979)). He suffered a heart attack and stroke in 1981, which effectively ended his screen career. John Dukakis’s first role was in JAWS 2 (1978). Son of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, he left acting in the mid-1980s for a career in politics and the entertainment business (where he developed unknowns at the time New Kids on the Block).
DELUSION was director Alan Beattie’s first feature film (he had previously netted two Oscar nominations for his short films). It was shot for a budget of under $1 million and completed shooting by May 1980. Bob Shaye of New Line (who had their own slasher ALONE IN THE DARK in the pipeline at the time) purchased the rights for worldwide sales and touted the film at Cannes 1981.
DELUSION had a scant release to US screens in early 1981 by The International Picture Show Co. It was re-released under the title THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES in 1982 and subsequently in 1983 through 1984. It was then picked up in 1985 by a newly formed company by Jim Sotos - director of slasher SWEET 16 (1983) - for yet another limited cinema push. It was under this title that Variety reviewed it and dubbed it a “Dull, old-fashioned gothic horror.” But it did single out praise for Pearcy and Cotten. During its original run, Fort Worth Star Telegram gave the film a good review. Perry Stewart called it “… a better-than-average thriller”, but bemoaned the advertising campaign that “… makes it out to be just another drive-in cheapie.” Candice Russell, in the Fort Lauderdale News, was less complimentary: “Delusion is a strange film - competently acted, written and directed, far above the horror schlock of recent months - but not the knuckle-whitener it promises to be.” Her review may have been somewhat coloured by a bad cinema projection as the last 20 minutes, of the screening she saw, which had only half of the character’s faces showing!
DELUSION may not be to everyone's tastes. It is certainly atypical of other slashers released in 1981. However, despite its shortcomings, for the curious and those willing to look past the norm there's an unusual and unique thriller to enjoy.
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female: 0 / male: 7
2) Male battered to death with chair leg
3) Male crushed under wine rack and battered to death with chair leg
4) Male battered to death with chair leg
5) Male battered with chair leg and slashed with metal claw
6) Male found dead
7) Male battered to death with chair leg