Blu-ray Review: THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS and GHOST WARRIOR

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THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS, Toshiya Maruyama, Mako Hattori, Toshiyuki Sasaki, Edward Albert, 1982, (c) MGM

Two fantastic Samurai shockers come to Blu-ray.

 

For years this writer had heard nothing but negative things about Kevin Connor’s 1982 Japanese/American haunted house opus THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS and that, coupled with the fact that the premise just didn’t seem that interesting, caused me to steer clear.

I eventually forgot about the picture and was only reminded of its existence when the film showed up in my mailbox on Scream Factory’s double feature Blu-ray, coupled with Charles and Albert Band’s 1984 action flick GHOST WARRIOR (aka SWORDKILL). Well, good things come to those who wait and I’m happy to report that THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS is an absolutely insane horror film; a mad amalgam of Eastern and Western sensibilities, filled with sex, violence, humor, absurdity and hysteria.

And GHOST WARRIOR aint half bad either!

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THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS stars Edward Albert (GETTING EVEN) and the luscious, wide-eyed Susan George (STRAW DOGS, DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE) as a lovely young couple, he American, she British, who move to rural Japan with their daughter so that hubby can pursue his career as a journalist. Albert’s best pal, played by character actor and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP star Doug McClure, gets the family a sweet deal on a traditional Japanese country home and we, the audience, know exactly why the price is so rock bottom…

In the film’s balletic and bizarre opening, we meet the former residents of the house. A scowling samurai watches in fury as his comely wife makes sweet love to another man in their living room and, before they finish their passionate, illicit coupling, the sword-wielding cuckold bursts in, swinging for vengeance. After a wildly protracted, slow-motion attack, the husband hacks the arm off his wife’s lover and before his spurting stump runs dry, he hacks off the horny man’s head for good measure. Without missing a beat, he opens his wife’s throat and then commits gory suicide, impaling himself on his weapon.

So when McClure and the locals tell the Albert and George that the home is haunted, we believe it.

Director Kevin Connor (MOTEL HELL) makes no pretense for subtlety here and as soon as the couple settles in to their new digs, he shows the blue-tinted ghostly trio; hollow-eyed, muttering echoes of the murderous husband and adulterous lovers who now seem to be united in death, intent on tormenting and possessing the new tenants in the hopes that history will repeat itself.

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And it does. Soon George is screwing McClure and Albert is down-spiraling into paranoid Jack Torrance-ville, acting erratically, violently and losing his mind. Meanwhile, the ghosts keep at it, thrilling to the mayhem they’re posthumous actions are causing.

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS gets sneered at for what many believe to be inadvertent humor and inept attempts to scare, but I don’t see it that way. The ghosts themselves (achieved via a very cool in-camera technique pioneered by German expressionists) act like a malevolent Greek chorus to the dissolution of the family and they’re a deeply surreal addition that adds a kind of bizarre black comedy to the often histrionic drama.

Equally outrageous are scenes where the murderous dead samurai’s face appears grimacing in the daughter’s soup, to which the girl states “there’s a horrible face in my soup!” before her angry, demented dad tries to pour the steaming brew down her gullet. It’s a sequence of absolute madness and, rather than being silly, I found it to be an abstract re-enactment of the insanity of domestic abuse. Then there’s the unforgettable sequence where the daughter is menaced by the giant tree-crab monster,a deliciously crude remote controlled puppet that grumbles away in Japanese, chasing her around the room.

Like all good Japanese ghost stories THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS is deeply weird and that’s likely why certain critics and fans didn’t respond to it upon release. But its alien oddness brushes up against a legitimately affecting domestic melodrama, one that gives George a long leash to deliver a fearless, uninhibited performance that is as emotionally complex as it is sexual (the actress has no qualms about showing off her gorgeous body). All these elements combine to make THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS one of the great, unsung 80’s horror films. There’s nothing really quite like it.

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The second feature on the disc is indeed the Empire Pictures release GHOST WARRIOR, the fish-out-of-water tale of a thawed out samurai (real-life samurai Hiroshi Fujioka) who wanders out of the high-tech hospital where he’s being studied by a pretty young doctor (Janet Julian) and into the streets of LA. There he encounters thugs and grease-balls of every sort, befriending a kindly old man (Charles Lampkin) while inadvertently becoming a kind of vigilante. GHOST WARRIOR isn’t a horror film at all, rather it’s a kind of Samurai-fueled DEATH WISH with a central gimmick that makes it feel like the pilot of a post-70’s TV show. It’s plenty fun, played straight, briskly paced and bloody and SSS is a fantastic presence. Definitely one of the better early 80’s Band family offerings.

Both features arrive looking suitably slick in their 1080p presentations though not one feature is to be found. The former title especially is in need of more discussion and love. Either way, this is an essential buy, a great double feature of films that are undeservedly obscure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFx9Oele0LM