If you want to find a truly creepy horror, you need to look no further than the Italian horror films of the 1980s. Argento, Bava, Fulci, Deodato and Martino, these directors helped to launch this italian-american sub genre with their own unique styles, techniques and visions. They always managed to capture this intense atmosphere that modern films rarely have. Ghosthouse is a haunted-house styled film by Cannibal Ferox director Umberto Lenzi, fitting firmly within this elite category of dark Italian horrors. It’s cheaply made, corny and stupid… but boy does it pack punch with it’s creepy imagery and foreboding atmosphere.
Ghosthouse starts with a strange radio signal being picked up by a couple in Boston, Paul and Martha, who trace the signal to an abandoned estate. It is here, along with a group of teens, that they become embroiled in the dark mysterious of the house. The group find themselves under attack from an otherworldly presence, a malevolent spectre of a young girl and her freaky clown doll. The film was released as an unofficial sequel to Evil Dead II in Italy, called La Casa 3, but internationally known as Ghosthouse.
Umberto Lenzi, who amusingly credits himself as Humphrey Humbert, is great at creating weird dream like sequences, but like his other films, the story is muddled and confusing. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, Ghosthouse manages to be a compelling and thoroughly entertaining film. It’s also very gory, with axe murders, decapitations and hangings galore. One of the coolest scenes, sees a man fall through a concrete floor into a pool of boiling acid. So it looks more like milk and acts like wax, but the ideas were there and the visuals are striking. Ghosthouse does not shy away from brutal murders, supernatural or otherwise.
Whilst the music is nothing special, composer Piero Montanari managed to capture the tone of the film with a mix of noises and sounds. Montanari spent the 90s producing music for porn films, but his work here shows a young composer who was eager to create something haunting and iconic. Even if Montanari’s career went down hill, his work on Ghosthouse shows real talent and a flare for atmospheric sound design. The best piece of music plays whenever the girl or clown make an appearance. It’s a real creepy sounding nursery rhyme that plays as the ghost manifests. The diegetic song sounds like it’s being played backwards, repeating the words over and over. One of the characters in the film deciphers that the voice is singing “Burial”, but he must have better ears than me, because I certainly could not hear it. It’s actually just nonsense, even when played backwards (yes I did that…) the audio is incomprehensible.
The entire film has a rich and ominous mood, heightened by the correct blend of silence and sound. You could say that director Lenzi put together a fairly well baked cake, with almost all the right ingredients. It’s certainly not helped by the cast, who give flat performances and laughable death scenes. This is never helped by the awful dubbing that this genre always relies on. However, even this little flaw just adds to the fun of the film. As a subgenre take on the haunted house films of the 80’s, it’s a wonderful experience, even if it is enigmatic in its approach. In the end, the creepy nursery rhyme was the best thing about it. Hell, I even turned it into a ringtone and now it plays when ever my girlfriend calls.
- Overall Score 35% 35%
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