Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi’s The Houses of Doom

*contains spoilers

A quick look at Lucio Fulci’s (1927-96 complications of diabetes) and Umberto Lenzi’s  (1931-2017 undisclosed) The Houses of Doom movies otherwise known as La case maledette.

Fulci’s Zombie 2 trailer (1979)

These four films are probably only best known to completists of Fulci and Lenzi, they are an interesting part of their work, but strictly speaking they are not really horror movies as they were made especially for television.

However, upon completion in 1989, they were deemed too horrific for Italian television and were shelved, remaining unseen for many years until an Italian horror film magazine pressured for their release in 2000.

The four movies, in order of their production, are The House of Clocks, The Sweet House of Horror, The House of Witchcraft and The House of Lost Souls. The first two are by Fulci and the second pair by Lenzi.

Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox trailer (1981)

All four movies were co-produced by the companies Dania Films and Reteitalia on a low budget, with each film shot in four weeks on 16mm film. Reteitalia was very prolific at this stage – peaking with Abel Ferrara’s (1951-) King of New York (1990) – but appeared to go broke around 2000 when the Houses of Doom got their first release on VHS in Italy. Dania films, busy in the 1980s – they did Cannibal Ferox – but also dropped off the radar back in 2012.

Director Lamberto Bava

The Houses of Doom were originally developed as a follow up to the highly successful Brivido Giallo which were four television films directed by Lamberto Bava (1944-). In fact Bava was to direct two of The Houses of Doom but was probably exhausted after his work on Brivido Giallo and dropped out, reducing The Houses of Doom series from six to four television movies.

The Brivido Giallo television movies include the harmless and definitely tongue in cheek Graveyard Disturbance, which I love, as well the The Ogre aka Demons 3 (1989), which is also enjoyable and a kind of remake of Fulci’s House by the Cemetery (1981), as the script is also by that film’s writer Dardano Sachetti (1944-). Who was stealing whose ideas I don’t know but Fulci and Sachetti feuded bitterly over one of the Brivido Giallo movies Until Death and ended their relationship, having produced some true horror classics together including The Beyond (1981).

The House of Witchcraft poster

Lenzi wrote the screenplay for The House of Witchcraft, which opens with a dream sequence of a severed head being put in a witch’s bloody cauldron.

Also known as Ghosthouse 4, due to its late release, it stars Andy J. Forest who was also in Lenzi’s not half bad war film Bridge to Hell (1986). Also starring is Sonia Petrovna, whose career ended around the time of this movie. She is in the cast of Luchino Visconti’s (1906-76 stroke, heavy smoker) mammoth Ludwig (1973).

Also in the cast is Swiss character actor Paul Muller (1923-), who was in Lenzi’s enjoyable Hell’s Gate (1989) around this time as well as the Lewis Colllins’ (1946-2013 cancer) actioner The Commander (1988). That film is a part of the underrated trilogy of mercenary films featuring Collins and directed by Anthony Margheriti (1930-2002 undisclosed).

Maria Cuman Quasimodo in House of Witchcraft

To be honest, the scariest thing about The House of Witchcraft is the witch herself, played by Maria Cuman Quasimodo (1908-95). An actress who only really had bit parts, she makes an impression. She looks unforgettable as she plunges shears into the back of an unsuspecting victim and is responsible for putting an ice pick in a beautiful young girl’s chest, as well as causing all sorts of supernatural goings on in the titular house. Her teeth, skin and hair are particularly scary!

Gore-wise it’s a little disappointing. Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1979) was much more fun and there is talk of a remake of that film. Also check out Lenzi’s rather bizarre giallo Spasmo (1974) if you can, along with the slasher Eyeball (1975). They are both tour-de-force giallos by Lenzi but don’t expect anything like the gore of Cannibal Ferox (1981).

The only other drawcard in The House of Witchcraft is a quick appearance by a girl with a face like a supreme pizza and an appearance by Death himself, or herself, if you’re a fan of Argento’s Inferno (1979). It’s not dismal but it’s the weakest of the four movies.

Nightmare City trailer (1980)

Lenzi’s The House of Lost Souls aka Ghosthouse 3 is an improvement and is set in an isolated hotel in the Italian alps. This time, Lenzi did the story and the screenplay. It stars American Joseph Alan Johnson, who was in the classic Slumber Party Massacre (1982). I like the amusing sequel to that movie very much as well. The rest of the cast appears to consist of Italian television actors.

“Kid’s watch too much tv,” says one character as a group of perky young people crossing the mountains take a wrong turn and end up at a deserted hotel where, very much like The Shining (1980), history has a habit of repeating itself in terms of its ghostly inhabitants.

One of the characters is a psychic girl who sees murders on a television set which isn’t plugged in somewhere in the hotel which then explodes.

There is a bit of atmosphere in this film due to its dusty, cobwebbed and mouldy hotel interiors. Bodies hang on hooks in freezers, there’s severed heads galore and the occasional knife in the chest.

The House of Lost Souls poster

The gore isn’t gratuitous but there is some tension in Lenzi’s story although music by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti (1952-) is half-hearted and a pale imitation of the scores of John Carpenter. It’s hardly a Profondo Rosso aka Deep Red (1975) score although there is a hidden room scene in The House of Lost Souls similar to that movie.

While no classic, it has an epic ending for its budget and Johnson as Kevin carries the movie well. I’d be proud of the work.

Fulci’s The Sweet House of Horror, is based on a story written by the director. Apparently Fulci chose to reject the stories he had been given for the two movies and crafted his own originals.

The screenplay is co-written by the prolific Vincenzo Mannino (1930-99 undisclosed) who scripted Fulci’s ingenious Flashdance (1983) inspired giallo Murder Rock (1984) and the compelling slasher The New York Ripper (1982), which was long banned in Australia.

Mannino also scripted personal favorites of mine Enzo G. Castellari’s (1938-) The Last Shark (1982) starring James Franciscus (1934-91 emphysema) and Ruggero Deodato’s (1939-) Raiders of Atlantis (1983) starring Christopher Connelly (1941-88 lung cancer).

DVD cover

The Sweet House of Horror has a good pedigree script-wise as a result.

It stars Cinzia Monreale (1957-) as an aunt to two young children whose parents have been brutally murdered. Monreale is best known for her role in Joe D’Amato’s (1936-99 heart attack) excellent necrophilia-inspired horror Buio Omega aka Beyond the Darkness (1979), which was also banned in Australia until only recently. Monreale also had a key role in Fulci’s masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

The film is kind of magical and innocent in a way as the parents of the children visit them at bedtime as floating flames, which settle on the palm of their hands.

Meanwhile their home is in danger from a developer… and auntie and uncle may not be so innocent as they seem..

A ghostly parent visits in The Sweet House of Horror

The gore is more substantial here than in Lenzi’s movies. There’s brains splattered against a wall, an eyeball popping out of a smashed skull and a body split open after being run over by a truck. It is probably these key scenes that were the reason for the films being shelved as inappropriate for Italian television.

The film has a dreamlike aura, kind of like Vaseline on the lens, as if you are a part of a child’s dreams. It gives the film a feeling of another world. And with its floating flames, picnics in the field and levitating cars you get the feeling you are watching through the eyes of a child, especially as they laugh at the phenomenon.

Fortunately their ghostly parents spare them the real horror.

At the end of the movie, as they watch a villainous character’s hand supernaturally melt away, the young boy and girl laugh in all innocence.

What a laugh!

Do we sometimes laugh with all innocence at the absurdity of the horrors of life/horor movies? I think Fulci is saying: I hope so! – as he diverts and shields us like a loving parent from the reality of the “real” world with its true horrors.

As a result, it stands out as one of Fulci’s better movies overall.

However the best of The House of Doom movies for me has always been The House of Clocks.

DVD cover

Fulci supplied the story again while writer Vincenzo Mannino’s sometime collaborator Gianfranco Clerici (no info) co-wrote the script. Clerici was responsible for the scripts for Ruggero Deodato’s controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and The House at the Edge of the Park (1980), of which a belated sequel has been announced but maybe in limbo.

English actress Karina Huff (1961-2016 breast cancer) from one of Fulci’s better, later movies Voices from Beyond (1991) stars as a bad girl. The other good performance in the film comes from Paolo Paolini (1929-2019), who plays an old man whose clock collection is integral to the story. Al Cliver (1951-) who was prominent in Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) also plays a role in the movie as the gardener and Carla Cassola (1947-) from Michele Soavi’s (1957-) The Sect (1991) plays the housekeeper.

The unfortunate niece in The House of Clocks

The movie tells the story of a stately old couple living quietly in a secluded Italian villa, who don’t mind killing birds with back scratchers, running through their housekeeper with a stake, or meanwhile nailing 12-inch nails through the throats of their late niece and nephew whose mouldering bodies they keep in a crypt.

Director Fulci

A trio of petty thieves get through the villa’s security and terrorise the couple, killing them both along with the gardener. This causes the old man’s collection of clocks to stop. But these kids don’t care as they hang around smoking dope and having loud sex while they slowly fill sacks with silver. Then the clocks start to turn backwards… and the dead come back to life! And as the clocks turn back faster it unravels for one and all!!

Director Lenzi

Vince Tempera’s (1946-) music along with the ticking of the clocks is atmospheric and much better than Simonetti’s half-hearted attempts in Lenzi’s films. Tempera’s career was nodded to by Quentin Tarantino in his movie Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Good use is also made of locations, particularly in the rundown recesses of the villa.

Fulci uses the Vaseline lens again – as the entire film, it seems, was a dream!

The gore is effective again, especially one image of a stabbed hand. The special effects makeup artist on all of The House of Doom movies was Giuseppe Ferranti aka Pino Ferranti (no info). He goes way back to working with Dario Argento on Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and was responsible for Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox and Fulci’s Aenigma (1987). So he’s no slouch and its evident.

Also if you’re a cat lover – you’ll be delighted by the ending of The House of Clocks.

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