He Watched It Sober.

Trust us. We won't let this happen to you.

 

House of Death

a/k/a Death Screams

Part Three of Teenage Wastedland

      "If the man had TNT for brains he wouldn't even be able to muster a good fart!"

-- Good old Granny Edna    

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

Our hero?

 

Watch it!

AMAZON

DVD

WARNING: May Cause Drowsiness

 
Sights &
Sounds:
House
of Death
(1982)
 ABA Productions /
 United Film
 Dist. Company

Newspaper Ads

The Official

Talley:

Total Suspects :: 4

The Body Count :: 11

Death By:

Multiple Stab Wounds x 2

Asphyxiation

Multiple Lacerations

Throat Slashed x 2

Decapitation x 3

Blunt Hand Trauma

Body Severed in Half

The Most

Unorthodox
Death Scene:

Glass to the throat, followed by a two-story fall, which impales the victim on some boards, and then topped off with six bullets to the head that causes the cranium to violently detonate.

And the "What

the Hell Are
You Doing in
this Movie?"
Award Goes to:

David Nelson: Ozzie and Harriet's other son.

 

Having seen House of Death once before, it was with much trepidation that I dislodged the tape from the rental case, hesitantly pushed it in the VCR, and pressed play -- and then quickly jumped out of the way in case my VCR remembered it, too, and spat it back out at me. Then, as the machine wheezed to life and fought like hell to bring the old tape into a tracking groove, the production company told me it was proud to present House of the Dead and I began to scribble down my first notes when -- waitasecond ... The House of what?

A quick scan search confirmed my suspicions: I had the wrong tape. Grabbing the rental box, it was labeled House of Death but the regurgitated tape was labeled House of the Dead. Obviously, the rental store had a snafu, and so, after a long string of profanities, I put the tape back in the case and went to find my shoes.

Now, if you listen real close, you can hear more profanities as I clump up the stairs, and then follow the footsteps into the bedroom. The bed creaks while I put my shoes on. More footfalls. The side door slamming. A car starts and a 94 Olds backs out of a driveway. Then, an eerie silence comes over the House of Me. Twenty minutes later, the Olds pulls back into the driveway. The door opens again, followed by more profanities pertaining to the ancestry of the clerk at the video store. Twelve thumps down the steps. A slight crack as the rental case is popped open. A mechanical whir as the VCR takes the tape and a fidgety tap as a finger fumbles and finds the play button.

Letís try this again...

On a late summer evening, an ominous full moon shines upon the railroad tracks somewhere deep in the heart of Dixie. Away, away, we pan over a railroad bridge, and then drop below to find Ted and Angie (Larry Sprinkle and Penny Miller) making out on a motorcycle. And although the position theyíre trying wouldnít even work on a king-size bed, the couple seem bound and determined to try while balancing on the handlebars. This amorous mood is abruptly broken, however, when Ted gets his manhood stuck in his zipper, bringing the festivities to a screeching halt. (Ouch!) While he disengages, Angie laments her disappointment that Ted refuses to use the "L" word. To make up for this, he says the Midnight Special is almost due, and, if they time it out right, promises her a night sheíll never forget. From out of the darkness a whistle blows, confirming the train is right on time. And as the Midnight Special roars above them, rattling the trestle to its foundation, we pan back down and hear the couple going at it, hot and heavy, over the noise. But we soon realize what weíre hearing are not sounds of pleasure but sounds of distress! We then focus to see the coupleís heads are now tied together, facing each other. We also hear something lethal cutting into their bodies. And judging from the copious amounts of blood coming out of their mouths, the job's almost done. Then, after the train clears the bridge, the killer dumps both the bodies and the bike into the river. And as the bloody corpses tumble in the current, the opening them cranks up and the credits roll over the top of them...

And when this Casio-fueled power ballad kicks in, concluding our opening sequence, it almost coaxes you into stopping this insanity right now by ejecting the tape. Why are we so mad? Well, thanks to some real bad editing and day for night filtering, youíre not quite sure what in the heck just happened. The couple might have been stabbed, or they might have been tied to the tracks and run over by the train -- though I doubt that, or they would have been torn to pieces -- or, hell, they might have been attacked by some rabid possums. Who knows? Unfortunately, the preceding sequence has set the tone for the entire movie. E'yup: it's one jumbled mess. *sigh* Once more into the breech, dear friends...

The next morning, Sheriff Avery (William T. Hicks) heads to the local grocery store to talk with the owner. Seems Ted was an employee there and his folks are worried because he and Angie didnít come home last night. Alas, his boss hasn't seen them, either, but tells Avery to tell Ted heís fired as soon as they're found. However, when Lily (Susan Kiger), another employee, drops a case of RC Cola on the floor, after chastising her inherent clumsiness, the owner tells Avery to forget about the whole firing thing and to beg Ted to get back to work as soon as possible. On the way out, Avery rousts a youngster who was trying to steal some porn from the magazine rack. (Man, that Avery is one bad mother-humper.) Switching venues to the local baseball diamond, where the last game of the summer season has just come to an end, we spot someone lurking in the trees. After everyone else clears out, Coach Neal Marshall (Martin Tucker) and his two assistants, Bob and Kathy (Kurt Restor and Andria Savio), take inventory of the equipment. When several items turn up missing, they have a pretty good idea of whoís behind it -- Crazy Casey. Right on cue, Casey (Hans Manship), the local simpleton / village idiot, bolts out of the trees and runs off. 

You get the sense that Casey is relatively harmless, but weíre still going to call him Suspect #1. 

The sympathetic trio let him go, and Neal offers to buy Bob and Kathy a drink to celebrate the end of another successful season. At the diner, over a pitcher of beer, we find out that Bob and Kathy are seniors (-- making them minors?), and both are having reservations about leaving their small town for college. Neal tries his best to encourage them, saying all will be fine, as he orders another pitcher from Ramona (Jennifer Chase), who gives Neal the goo-goo to help us realize this is the town slut. From the kitchen, Jackson (Darin Lenthall) yells at his overly flirtatious waitress to get back work. Already upset over her refusal to work the next day, when the big carnival opens up, Jackson gets so mad he calls Ramona several naughty names. 

I'm sensing some bad history here, and when you couple that with his general bad attitude and access to all those sharp instruments in the kitchen makes Jackson Suspect #2.

Later, while walking Kathy home, Bob asks if she'd like to go to that carnival with him. Told she has to work at one of the carnivalís booths, he says that's not a problem and offers to work it with her. Meanwhile, the bodies of Ted and Angie continue to wash down the stream. Amazingly, they havenít separated at all -- and I point out that they were not tied together anymore when the killer dumped the bodies.

Across town, after closing up the grocery store, Lily cuts through several back lots near the railroad tracks to get home. Somewhere, an owl hoots, a dog barks in the distance, and Lily gets a bad case of the jitters. She makes it across the tracks, but is convinced that someone is following her. Turns out there is; itís Casey, who silently watches as a freight train, somehow, manages to sneak up on Lily and blow by her a few scant feet away. (Uh-hunh.) When she screams in surprise, Casey is so amused by the whole scene he claps vigorously. Pressing on -- and are you sure this is a short-cut? -- Lily makes it the rest of the way home without incident, where she finds Grandma Edna (Helene Tryon) in the kitchen peeling apples. They share the news of the day, with Tom and Angieís disappearance the hot-topic of discussion. With Lily convinced theyíre just off making whoopee somewhere, Edna is disgusted because people didnít do that kind of thing when she was a kid. But when Lily says thatís a load of bull, Edna doesn't argue. Next, we get a little back-story: seems Lily isnít real happy with her life. Most of her friends are long gone, while she stayed behind in the little town. She used to date a guy named Matt, whoís now off at medical school, but Edna wasnít too fond of him and thinks her granddaughter can do better [-- and being a veteran of these genre films, we will tag this minor, and as of yet unseen, character of Matt as Suspect #3]. Back at the diner, Ramona answers the phone. It's for Jackson, but he's disappeared. Checking out back she accidentally lets the cat out. (I assume the cat is at the diner to catch mice in the kitchen? Thatís comforting. Hunh, and I thought the little black pellets were seasoning...) After gathering up the feline fugitive, Ramona shuts the door -- just as the killer takes a swipe at her with a machete, who only manages to hit the screen door. Unaware of how close she just came to dying, Ramona tells the caller Jackson is gone.

The next day, the city carnival is in full swing and we catch up with all our characters frolicking therein: Casey is having trouble getting on a moving carousel; and when Neal tries to help him, Casey gets scared and runs off again; Lily and Edna find Bob and Kathy making out at their booth; and then we round out our cannon fodder -- sorry, the rest of the cast with some real winners ... Ramona has got her hooks in Tom (Josh Gamble), and they walk the Midway with Walker and Sheila (Mike Brown and Monica Boston), Sandy (Jody Kay), and Diddle. (John Kohler -- our malignant comedy relief for the rest of the film.) Sneaking behind a tent, they all share a stick of marihuana. When Sheriff Avery smells the smoke and investigates, they spot him in time for Walker to eat the reefer, destroying the evidence. Rousting them anyway, we find out thereís some nasty history between Ramona and Avery, as well, as he warns them all to behave or else. 

Okay ... grumpy Sheriff who hates loose women? That'd be Suspect #4.

We then take a few moments to go back to the river to spy the bodies still merrily floating along, segueing us over to Lily and Edna, who join Agnes (Mary Fran Lyman) at the quilting booth. Agnes is Caseyís mom, and more of the plot is spilled-out, when she reveals Neal is Caseyís hero and how her son idolizes him. Meanwhile, Neal gets some free brownies from Sara (Sharon Alley). Ignoring her affectionate advances, he moves on down to the quilting booth and starts talking to Lily. They hit it off. A few tents over, when the larger group of potheads meet up with Bob and Kathy at the food court, Sheila invites them all to one last party down by the river before they split up this fall; they also plan to head into the cemetery and tell ghost stories or something ... Sorry, I wasnít paying that close of attention; I was too busy watching Sandy perform fellatio on her banana. The little scene stealer.

Later, when Bob and Kathy invite Neal to the party, he in turn asks Lily to come, too. She declines, but agrees to go to the movies with him some time. A couple of booths down, the scorned Sara watches all this with disgust. She doesnít take Neal's rejection very well, storms off, and after securing a can of whipped cream, trashes Nealís car. When Casey spies her doing this he goes into some kind of fit -- and I'll pause to point out that Casey had earlier come out of the Chamber of Horrors with a nasty facial twitch. The vandalism done, Sara retreats further into the parking lot and watches as Neal finds his trashed car. She sneaks away, across an open field, and stops at a water fountain for a quick drink. Home free, she strikes a sexy pose on some rocks and relaxes -- until the air is cut with a loud thwack! Sara jumps up with a start, an arrow stuck in the middle of her back. Does she scream for help? No. Does she head for the crowd for help? Nope. Does she not make a sound and retreat to the old carousel in the park, climb on a horse, and whimper? Yep. *sigh* As the carousel starts moving, the killer sneaks up behind his victim, sticks a plastic bag over her head, and secures it until she suffocates -- and that mercifully brings this embarrassing little interlude to an end. Again, I have to point out that this happened during the light of day, in an open field, with a ton of people around!!!!

That night, a despondent Casey is in his room playing with some toy trains. Worried because Casey didnít seem too thrilled about the carnival, Agnes coaxes a confession that her son saw Sara "hurt" Coach Neal and wanted to stop her. With that revelation Agnesís concern grows exponentially as she asks if Casey hurt Sara in that "special way" theyíve talked about in retaliation. When Casey says heíd never do that, relieved, his mother gives him a hug.

Even though she already told Neal no, Bob and Kathy finally convince Lily to come to the party with them later. After they drop her off, Lily and Edna have a talk and more back-plot comes to the front: apparently, Edna is worried about Lily. So worried that she would rather have Lily get back with Dr. Matt Brainfart than see Neal. Seems Neal's mother was the town prostitute. However, Lily points out that her own mother wasn't much better in the town's eyes, having had an illegitimate baby (-- for the record, her mother died during childbirth). Edna hadn't realized Lily knew the truth about her past, and that no one knows who her dad really was. She had concocted a story that he had died, too, but Lily knew the pictures of him were fake. With no more secrets to hide, the two women reconcile the past with a long hug before Lily goes upstairs to change for the party, while Edna heads into the kitchen -- and yes, I believe we're supposed to notice the huge meat cleaver hanging on the wall. 

Meanwhile, Neal is also getting cleaned up for the party; and through the distorted glass of the shower door, we spy someone entering the bathroom. This silent intruder then throws the door open, giving Neal quite a fright, but it's only Ramona. Her hot-wires crossed, Ramona thinks Neal wants to sleep with her. He answers by sticking her in the shower and turning on the cold water. Storming out of the house, a soggy Ramona runs right into Sheriff Avery. Laughing at her wetness, he canít believe sheís having this much trouble getting laid. And as their conversation gets even nastier, we get more back-story about a car wreck involving Casey and Ramona; and Casey might be Averyís illegitimate son; and how his brain damage might have happened in the car wreck; but again, the movie is not very clear on these points. A little later, Avery gets a frantic call from Agnes, saying Casey has disappeared. Later still, Neal heads to his garage, when suddenly, he hears something up in the rafters. No one answers his call but a soccer ball drops from the loft and bounces into the darkness. Assuming it's Casey, Neal heads up the ladder to help him down; but when he reaches the top, there is a brief scuffle in the darkness; and then we get a brief glimpse of a bloody machete and the sound of several direct hits.

At the river party, as a bonfire burns brightly, Tom canít quite figure out why Ramona is in such a bad mood; Walker and Sheila make out; and poor Sandy isnít very happy because the only available guy left is Diddle, whoís drunk and doing bad impersonations. When no one else will go swimming with her, Sandy declares the party a bust and stomps off to swim alone -- well, to go skinny-dipping alone to be more precise; thus fulfilling our nudity quotient for the film. And after a little splashing around, Sandy floats on her back, letting the current gently sweep her down into the shallows, where she runs right into the bodies of Ted and Angie! (So the river runs in one big circle?) She screams and swims for the nearest bank, but the bloody machete swings into action, cutting her throat open, and then another body joins Ted and Angieís silent journey toward the sea. Back around the bonfire -- and out of ear-shot, apparently -- the others stop necking long enough to realize Sandyís been gone too long and start to look for her. But instead of finding her, they run into Bob, Kathy and Lily. After a little more searching, they figure Sandy just walked home.

Meanwhile, Averyís search for Casey has turned up nothing. At the diner, he finds out Jackson is still missing, too, and then heads to Nealís house. Finding the house locked, he hears something in the garage and investigates. Nealís car is still there, and the strange noises continue -- a dripping sound -- and then he spots something on the windshield. Smearing his fingers in it, the Sheriff realizes itís blood just as a headless body plummets from the rafters onto the hood.

Back at the river everyone has paired up again, leaving Lily as the odd girl out. Since Neal hasnít shown up yet (-- and odds are he ainít gonna), she decides to head home until the others talk her into coming to the cemetery with them. They leave a note saying where they went, just in case Neal does show, then all pile into Walkerís pick-up, which transports them to what appears to be the Edward D. Wood Jr. Memorial Cemetery. There, the group forms a semi-circle in front of a large tombstone, light some candles, and then elect Lily to tell the first ghost story. And while she tells the old urban legend about the psycho who kills the family dog and licks the girl's hand from underneath her bed, someone darts between headstones and trees, slowly making their way toward them. Then, just as Lily reaches the climax of her tale, a storm breaks from out of nowhere and a torrential rain starts to fall. Retreating to the old abandoned Reynolds place -- and please-o-please-o-please let this finally be the House of Death! -- they manage to get a fire going in the fireplace and dry off. While waiting for the rain to abate, Diddle announces he has to make water and fertilizer but the only facilities are an old two-seater outhouse out back. When Diddle leaves to relieve himself -- and please-o-please let this cretin be the next victim! -- Tom hits upon the idea to play a prank on the prankster by scaring him mid-poop. So, as Diddle enters the outhouse, rousts out a raccoon, and settles in, back in the house Tom announces it has stopped raining -- even though the Foley man blows this cue and doesn't stop the rain-effect until after Tom makes this announcement -- and herds everyone outside to hassle their friend. As the men line-up the women in front of the outhouse door, turns out the jokes on them when they open it up to find Diddle strung up by the ankles with his throat slashed open! 

After the panic stricken knot retreats back into the house, Walker and Sheila run off to get his truck. In his panic, he quickly outdistances the girl by a large margin, and when he jumps into the truck and puts the keys in the ignition, he doesn't realize someone's in the truck with him.

Okay. Time. The. [Expletive deleted]. Out: How could he not see him in there?!?

When Sheila runs out of the woods and spies Walker in the idling truck,  sliding in beside him, she bumps into his shoulder -- causing Walker's dismembered head to fall off! The girl then screams away as the killer seizes her, drags her outside, and starts whacking away with the machete. Back at the house, Tom is growing impatient and tells Bob to stay with the women while he goes to see whatís holding Walker and Sheila up. Tom makes it to the truck but spots the decapitated heads lying on the ground. And while retreating back thru the cemetery, he accidentally falls into an open grave, where, when moves to pull himself up and out, the killer's machete comes down and lops both of his hands off. (Man that thing must be sharp.) Tom falls back into the grave -- while his hands still twitch above!

Meanwhile, back at the house, itís quiet. Too quiet. And when Bob tries to sneak a look outside, he barely manages to dodge the killer's machete. With the door slammed shut, the killer tries to break in through the boarded up windows next. Inside, while trying to retreat upstairs, Ramona falls through some rotted floorboards and gets stuck halfway between floors. As Bob and the others try to pull her free, Ramona starts screaming -- louder and louder, until the pulling gets a lot easier because the killer has somehow gotten below them and chopped her in half! With the killer inside the house, those that are left manage to make it up the rickety stairs and hole-up in a bedroom. And though Bob tries to hold the door shut as the killer reduces it to kindling with the machete, he takes several deep lacerations to his back. Before he's killed, Kathy pulls Bob away from the door. And when the killer finally kicks his way in, Lily's eyes grow wide with recognition:

Itís Neal.

The hell? So was the body Avery found Casey? Or Jackson? Or Jimmy Hoffa? Or maybe the Frito Bandito, perhaps?

Yes, Neal -- who has gone completely cuckoo for Co-Co Puffs. Calling Lily a whore, just like his mother, we get one last quick flashback to Neal watching his mom doll up for one of her johns. And somehow, this turned him into a homicidal maniac. He swipes his machete at Lily, misses badly, and busts out a window. Grabbing a chunk of the broken glass, Lily stabs him in the throat. Outside, Avery arrives on the scene and, with his pistol drawn, circles around to the side and finds the cellar entrance -- Aha! So thatís how the killer got in the basement to chop Ramona in half. Upstairs, Neal takes another lunge at Lily, misses again, only this time his momentum takes him through the broken window, where he plummets to the ground and crashes through the cellar door in front of the Sheriff. Pulling back some loose boards, Avery finds Neal still kicking and empties his revolver into the killerís head-- that explodes in a sea of tomato paste!!!

Well, I'm gonna assume he shot him as Averyís massive chub rolls absorbed the recoil from his pistol. For heavenís sake! They couldnít even afford blanks to shoot the gun off! He just aimed it and PRETENDED to fire, keeping the gun out of frame!

When the State Police arrive, they start picking up the pieces and cleaning up. And while Bob is loaded onto an ambulance, Kathy asks Avery "Why?" 

His answer: "I donít know."

Me neither.

The End

Maybe I should have stuck with House of the Dead.

You know, I've always been told that you should never assume anything because, if you do, it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me." So with most films, I try not to assume anything. But when the creators assume the audience can piece together their film past the plot-holes, inconsistencies, and quantum leaps of plot-logic, then you are a powerless victim of these assumptions. Therefore, the film has made an ass out of you. House of Death assumes a lot. And it assumed itís way right into an 18th Amendment.

Look, I don't have a problem if a film doesnít spell things out for the audience. I like it when the filmmakers donít dumb it down and make you pay attention. To me, thatís good filmmaking. But there is a big difference between good / clever filmmaking, and bad / sloppy filmmaking, which House of Death or Death Screams most certainly is:

Are we to assume that Ted and Angie got hacked up? Or run over by the train? Are we to assume that Avery and Agnes are married? And Casey is there defective progeny? Was he injured in the possible accident with Ramona? Was that Caseyís body found in the garage? How did Neal make it all the way out to the cemetery with his car still parked in the garage? How did the killer get in the basement? During the flashback, Neal sees his mom and another woman of ill repute. Is this Lilyís mother? And what exactly is Nealís motive anyway? 

And the list goes on and on ... What I really found to be hilarious is, if you remove the killing spree, what you have left is a really bad hatchet job of Peyton Place -- or some other, southern-fried gothic potboiler. A lot of time and effort is spent on worthless details in this movie. And all of that can be blamed on a lazy script by Paul Eliot. Coming out in the middle of the slasher boom, Eliot stripped it down to the bare essentials: no motive -- by then the motives were irrelevant or hackneyed at best; about a dozen false scares; a smattering of red herrings; two boob-shots; and at least eight deaths by a lethally sharp object -- the majority of which happen in the last ten minutes.

When I checked for the filmís director on the IMDB, I thought they had there wires crossed again. But no; itís true. House of Death was directed by David Nelson; Ozzie and Harrietís other son (-- the other being the late singer Ricky Nelson). I found corroborating evidence and confirmed it with info from Steven Kramerís website, who was an assistant editor on the film. Shot at Earl Owensby studios in Shelby, North Carolina, Owensby was known as the Dixie DeMille and provided production facilities for fly by night moviemakers like the ones behind this turgid slasher. Final Exam -- one of the worst Stalk 'n' Slash movies ever made -- was filmed there the year before ... And now that I think about it, House of Death is an exact carbon-copy of that film: two deaths before the opening credits; followed by an hour where nothing happens; and then it turns into a massive blood bath for the last fifteen minutes. And the killer didnít have a motive in that one either. Later, Owensby's studios and there giant water tanks were used in the filming of James Cameronís The Abyss in 1989. Sometime after that, Owensby got religion and sold off his studio properties and started opening piously based theme parks.

Itís really sad that the script is so bad because the actors, aside from the idiot and future TV weatherman playing Diddle, do an OK job. Most of the time, these things are polluted with actors that simply canít act, but here, we have an exception. Everyoneís reasonably likeable but the film has nothing for them to do except wait around to be killed -- and the movie makes us wait an awful long time. We do get our cheesecake shots, but the film has lulled us to sleep and I barely noticed that Sandy was skinny-dipping. And thatís just sad.

So, the viewer is in a dilemma. We canít identify with the characters; but we donít hate them enough to want them to die (-- except Diddle), and who cares who the killer is and why. The deaths arenít very creative, loopy, or graphic. The notable exception being the killerís demise when his very false head explodes under Averyís barrage of bullets. That was friggin' hilarious. Beyond that, the only unintentional humor comes from the cutaways to the bodies merrily floating down the stream with the erratic course.

In between the killings at the beginning until [Iím assuming] Casey is killed in the garage, almost an hour has elapsed where nothing has happened except empty and worthless back-story. I got the distinct impression that scorned Saraís killing was shoehorned in, rather clumsily, after the film was done, when the producers realized nothing happens for over and hour and decided to stick in another murder to add some punch. But it didnít help. And it didnít fit; the killerís weapon of choice is a machete, not a bow and arrow. And I still don't even want to contemplate why Sara doesnít scream and run back into the carnival area for help.

When I presented the films for this marathon, I got an e-mail from a reader who caught House of Death on A&E of all places. It didnít make any sense to the reader and they blamed it on the possibility of parts being edited out to pass the censors, or fit in the time slot. Iím here to say that edited or unedited, the film still doesnít make a lot of sense and is one jumbled mess. If you're a fan of the genre and rent it, fast forward to the last ten minutes. Beyond that, the film is just one colossal waste of time.

Death Screams / House of Death (1982) ABA Productions :: United Film Distribution Company / P: Ernest Bouskos, Charles Ison / D: David Nelson / W: Paul C. Elliott / C: Darrell Cathcart / E: Jerry Whittington / M: Dee Barton / S: Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Jody Kay, John Kohler

And the Body Count Continues...

More Teenaged Wastedland.

Originally Posted: 02/21/02 :: Rehashed: 08/31/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
How our Rating System works. Our Philosophy.