TITLE: The Haunted House of Horror (aka Horror House and The Dark)
YEAR RELEASED: 1969
DIRECTOR: Michael Armstrong
CAST: Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Richard O’Sullivan, Dennis Price and George Sewell
NIA JONES reviews the epitome of 1960s horror hipness, The Haunted House of Horrror
Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, who later directed the disturbing ‘Mark of the Devil’, The Haunted House of Horror is an early attempt at a “slasher” film with the dawn of the 1960s as a backdrop. The director’s first film, this “Old Creaky Dark House” theme is a good effort as an answer to its more popular predecessor the Hammer Films. Michael Armstrong clearly had a mixed experience while making this film, the finished product was not as he had intended; as it is reported in the film DVD commentary, but with any film project, America’s international influence is a regular occurrence regarding artist vision and controls in film production.
The film’s plot has been retold very often in cinema since 1969, nevertheless the film is a decent ‘stab’ at the youth culture of the day; you will feel a slight flicker of joy when you witness the outrageous kitsch of the aesthetic. The Carnaby Street “a la mode” fashion, the boyish mod-curio get ups and the mini dresses and knee high white go-go boots is a curious mix with the copious amount of neon-bright red fake blood. Although portraying British teenagers, clearly the actors are much older than their playing ages; and it is quite conspicuous, the only American actor Frankie Avalon was nearly 30 when appearing in the film. Most of the starring actors went on to star in British television dramas and popular 1970s sitcoms.
The film’s dialogue can border at times on over-hip and cheesy, slightly out of place for the age group – “He’s the epitome of swingin’ London!” is one line that captured my attention. The garish 1960s colour scheme and bright patterns do clash with the dark setting of a haunted house scenario and the pretty brutal slashing scenes. Even though the horror itself is rather unsettling you cannot help but find the irony and humour in some of the ideas, reflecting the loss of the 1960s innocence, which is cleverly remarked upon in the classic ‘Withnail and I” by drug dealer Danny, “They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.” When you view the narrative for the first time it is important you try to forget all you have seen in horror films, try and become the young late sixties cinema goer. See the film as intended; considering when it was made and you will find it quite enjoyable.