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Tuesday 25 May 2010

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

Director: Kevin Connor
Stars: Edward Albert, Susan George and Doug McClure

There's always something interesting to be seen in even the worst Japanese horror movies, but then this one's only a sort of Japanese horror movie. It looks fine to start with, set in Kyoto in 1840 with a lovely young lady playing her koto for her guest, but then it was partly made by Toei who know what they're doing when it comes to this sort of stuff. The costumes are right, the sets are right, even the music is right. What's wrong is the fact that this lovely young lady is cheating on her husband, a bad idea given that he's a samurai, albeit not a great one given how long it takes him to hack his unwelcome guest apart. Presumably it was aimed at an American audience so these scenes of samurai carnage take place entirely in slow motion, only returning to normal speed when our offended husband has slain his wife and her bit on the side so he can commit harikiri without having to take forever about it.

And while I'd have been happy if we'd stayed in 1840, we leap forward instead to the modern day to meet our American stars. Doug McClure is the local guy, resident in Japan long enough to pick up some of the language but not long enough to understand the TV show playing in the airport when he goes to pick up his friends, the Fletchers. Ted and Laura are a young couple on their second honeymoon, played by Edward Albert and Susan George. That's Edward, not Eddie: Edward is Eddie's son. Their daughter is Amy, both as an actress and a character: Amy Barrett plays Amy Fletcher. They want tradition, so Alex finds them a traditional haunted Japanese house, you know that one with a double murder suicide a hundred and forty years earlier. The only change from usual convention is that good old Alex knows full well the place is haunted and even tells them that from moment one. Nobody has to find it out the hard way.

Everything else is utterly conventional. We get a few clumsy attempts to remind us that it's a ghost story before we settle down for a long and gratuitous sex scene and while I'm hardly going to complain that I got to see quite a bit of Susan George, it just goes on and on. It's become very apparent that the more I see The Room, the more it becomes a reference point to every other piece of bad cinema and this sets itself up to match it in number of ways. It isn't just the sex scene, it's the whole bizarre love triangle that promptly gets set up. At least this one has a fairly acceptable excuse, given that the three ghosts hang around a lot and the female ghost very deliberately walks into Laura's body to make her say highly inappropriate things at highly inappropriate moments. However that doesn't mean it doesn't end up at precisely the same place, even if Alex doesn't even once exclaim 'But he's my best friend!'

I got bored pretty quicky with the whole ghost story, given that there's no real attempt to build any rhyme or reason to it. If anything they seem to have made up their differences during a hundred and forty years in the afterlife and team up to mess with the idiot gaijin. I tolerated these scenes for far too long, kept interested only by the possibility that Ted might see sense and go visit the Zen monk who comes to visit him to give him a heads up that hey, this is a ghost story, dude. Bad things are going to happen and maybe you'll be in need of a Zen monk. Thank the stars, he does in the end and while actor Henry Mitowa's English is terrible, he does at least send us back to the past to see Mako Hattori in the flesh and a cool witch and stuff like that. She plays Otami, the wayward wife. Her samurai husband is Shigero and it turns out that its his apprentice Masanori who she was messing around with. No wonder he was extra pissed.

The problem is that every time we head back into the present day, everything gets boring. Ted is very quickly tiresome, Laura's a shrieking pain in the ass and Amy's just there. This was young Amy Bennett's third film, after Caged Heat and Humanoids from the Deep, both of which saw her play someone called Amy too, but she gave it a rest after this one and only came back to the business for a small part in Woody Allen's Alice in 1990. I hate being rude about child actors, but I wonder if she really wanted to be in this movie or whether there were outside influences driving her. I've seen a lot worse acting but I've seen a lot better too, though to be fair her character is only ever used as a prop so it's hardly surprising she couldn't do much with it. The crabs get more to do. Yes, the crabs. Apparently infidelity leads to crabs, some of which are huge and fake and moan in a Japanese accent. Very strange stuff indeed, very strange stuff without a point.

People who like this film seem to like it for two reasons. The guys watch it for Susan George, who admittedly strains rather fetchingly against her tight outfits, but she's far better elsewhere, both as an actress and as a piece of eye candy. This is definitely minor Susan George stuff and she looks like a frog for far too much of the film. The girls watch it for Edward Albert, who has quite the fan club it seems, but while he's capable here too, he's not particularly worth watching the film for either. For my part, the best reason to watch is for Mako Hattori, not just because she's a lovely young Asian lady who gets a number of topless scenes, but because the opening scenes are the best ones. The film would have benefitted from the three Japanese actors who played the ghosts swapping roles with the three American actors playing the leads. The final fight scene wouldn't have been ludicrous and maybe we could have had more koto playing.

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