Film Review: House of Lost Souls (1989)

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SYNOPSIS:

A four-part movie series made for Italian television under the umbrella title House of Doom. Legendary Italian horror maestros Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci each contributed two films for the series: Lenzi made HOUSE OF LOST SOULS and HOUSE OF WITCHCRAFT, while Fulci offered HOUSE OF CLOCKS and SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS.

REVIEW:

Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Stefania Orsola Garello and Matteo Gazzolo

There are two questions that need to be asked when rating a film.
1) Is it good?
2) Did you enjoy it?
One might think that in answering one, you answer both, but this is not always the case. Apocalypse Now is an excellent film, that much can’t be denied, but I certainly didn’t enjoy it the first time I watched it, or even the second time.

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Similarly, there are some films (Plan 9 From Outer Space and Silent Hill: Revelations come to mind) that are utter train wrecks. Obscenely terrible. A mish-mash of incompetence and terrible acting. And yet, these same films can be ridiculous amounts of fun to watch and enjoy, sometimes even obtaining cult status due to its many mistakes and predictability.

House of Lost Souls is one of those films, a hidden gem of hilarious ineptitude.

Directed by Umberto Lenzi, the man behind Cannibal Ferox, House of Lost Souls is a made-for-TV Italian film that shows its budget at every opportunity. The House itself looks like an abandoned factory from the 1940s, which truly isn’t as impressive as it sounds.

Very little effort seems to be made into turning this into a horror film setting, with the crew appearing to be under the impression that, if it actually is an abandoned building, then it may as well be left alone. They don’t seem to realize that abandoned buildings in general, especially during the daytime, aren’t particularly bone-chilling. Their overall ineptitude is made glaringly apparent by a number of technical mistakes, which reaches its pique when a piece of sound equipment is clearly seen in the middle of a scene.

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It’s not all technical however. The narrative is also distinctly amateurish. Like The Shining, the impression is that the characters are trapped in this house, but until the last act, there is literally no reason why they can’t just pick up their things and leave. The characters themselves seem genuinely determined to have a horror movie experience; they just won’t admit it to the audience.

Which is actually pretty unusual, because this is a cast that seems to be completely moulded out of exposition. They are determined to spell out every development and they make connections using a sort of Adam West Batman logic. At one point in the film, one of the characters takes a metal detector out of the trunk of their car, saying they might be able to use it. For what is anyone’s guess, but lo and behold, it becomes a significant plot device later on.

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Characters have any number of hilarious lines, including:
“Do you know the motel on Devil’s Peak?”
“The motel on Devil’s Peak? Is that what you said?”

“Hey, the doctors gave you a reasonable explanation; they said that you have psychic powers!”

 “Where are you kids goin’? Why all the curiosity? Why all this fooling around with the past, why bother the departed? Let them rest in peace!”

It’s obvious that the film was badly written to begin with, but the translation is clearly awful as well, with every phrase translated literally. The film itself is dubbed, and the monotone delivery only adds to the hilarity. It comes across as one of those foreign films you might see fragments of in a sitcom, in which the distinct otherness of the movie is overtly emphasized in order depict how alienated the audience is to these European efforts.

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In terms of actual horror, this is one of the few areas that the film shows a glimmer of hope. Some of the kills are pretty original, even going so far as to enter into taboo territory. However, while this should place it in the history books, the rest of the films inherent awfulness engulfs these moments.

Creepy moments have potential, but are executed poorly. There is a brief montage of disturbing images at the beginning of the film and you can almost hear the audible slap as the director lays down his entire hand only moments after the opening credits.

Ghosts make an appearance, naturally, and there is even a reference to Herk Harvey’s masterpiece, Carnival of Souls, which the film is clearly drawing inspiration from. However, it seems to draw far too much from this era, as any ghostly effects are about as about as technical as those seen in the 1960s, i.e. white face paint and ash in the hair.

To compensate for this, Lenzi tries to throw a good deal of variety into his spectres. And while this is one of the few occasions that a Buddhist Monk ghost makes an appearance in Horror, their presence is either laughable or bland.

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The one exception to this is a mysterious figure who, it is implied, is far too monstrous to even behold. We first see its hand reaching for someone through a window, and it does indeed appear grotesquely decayed. However, as the film proceeds, it swiftly becomes obvious that the budget would only allow prosthetics to be applied to the hand and nothing else, hence why the hand alone gets such a surprising amount of screen-time.

Overall, House of Lost Souls is a laughably bad film in the purest sense. You get the impression that the director had the general shape of a good film in his head, but went through none of the fine-tuning processes that are inherent to almost all other films. Utterly unapologetic in its execution, this is an overly dramatic, and hilariously inept B-movie that is almost impossible to hate or take seriously.

House of Lost Souls (1989)

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