Written by: Christopher O’Neill on October 8th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, 1984
Director: Ray Cameron
Writer: Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron
Cast: Kenny Everett, Pamela Stephenson, Vincent Price, Gareth Hunt, Cleo Rocos
DVD released: July 21st, 2008
Approximate running time: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English (Closed Caption)
DVD Release: Nucleus Films
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £10.99
Synopsis: Something strange is occurring at Headstone Manor, a sinister dwelling that the local villagers have dubbed ‘The House Of Death’ since anyone who stays there comes to a violent and grisly end. A team of paranormal investigators, led by Dr. Lukas Mandeville and his assistant Dr. Barbara Coyle, arrive at the manor to explore the possibilities of supernatural phenomena. Their presence in the house is unwelcome, and the visitors incur the wrath of a satanic sect led by ‘The Sinister Man’, a 700-year old disciple of the Devil. As the scientists study the unusually high radioactivity readings and experience a series of bizarre happenings within the building, the Devil worshipers perform a ceremony in which an evil force will be summoned to cleanse the house of its inhabitants.
Given a brief theatrical release in Britain, the horror movie spoof BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH barely made a ripple at the box office before quickly disappearing into obscurity. The picture primarily operates as a big screen vehicle for the popular television entertainer Kenny Everett, and the assumption that a genre parody would be an ideal venture seems logical. BLOODBATH, however, lacks the speedy pace and anachronistic style of AIRPLANE! which would have come close to capturing the spirit of Everett’s television series. Instead, the film is saddled with a scattershot screenplay that runs out of steam long before the closing credits and uncertain direction which cannot make up its mind whether the film is suppose to be a comedy, or a genuine horror picture.
As with many other parodies of the genre, the film raises at least a few chuckles from horror enthusiasts due to the lampooning of pictures such as ALIEN, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and THE SHINING. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem to believe that simply referencing the outrageously memorable moments from these films without necessarily satirizing them to comedic effect is sufficient material for a parody film. Some sequences, in particular the CARRIE-inspired moment involving Sheila Steafel as a teenager using her telepathic powers to kill her domineering mother, resembles an overblown yet tired and low-rent imitation of the Brian De Palma film rather than an actual spoofing of it.
BLOODBATH opens with the massacre of eighteen people on the night of “August The 12th 1975…Thursday…Give Or Take A Day”. The slayings include shotgun blasts, hangings, hatchet through the head (mimicking the memorable swinging lampshade murder from FRIDAY THE 13TH), slashings, and, in another reference to the FRIDAY series, four victims are skewered in a bed like a shish kebab. This pre-credit sequence is constructed like a straight horror picture with a slim amount of comedy, and this illustrates what is problematic about the film. Such gory elements are peppered throughout the narrative and they sit uneasily alongside the simple-minded daft gags tailored for Everett and his fellow cast members (many of who had appeared at some stage on his television series).
Ultimately, BLOODBATH is a frustrating misfire, but not without merit. It would be impossible for any screenplay penned by the legendary British comedian Barry Cryer not to have at least a few worthwhile gags. The scene in the local pub in which there is confusion about the exact number of deaths at the manor – which climaxes in a group sing-along – is an example of the silly yet charming humor that the filmmakers were capable of. Co-written by director Ray Cameron, the script works best when relying on its willing and talented performers whose collective comic timing is flawless. Everett seems restricted by a feature-length narrative and being confined to playing only one character, but he equates himself well in the lead role, while his occasional psychotic lapses into a deranged surgeon with kitsch German accent allow him to display some of his trademark zaniness. The remarkable Pamela Stephenson had demonstrated in the skit BBC series NOT THE NINE O’CLOCK NEWS that she is a talented comedienne and her presence in the film is most welcome. According to the supplementary material on the DVD, Stephenson was responsible for adding the peculiar lisp to her character’s speech and this slight but important addition to her performance is an indication of her strong comedic instincts.
The most amusing and memorable element of BLOODBATH is the presence of Vincent Price in his final British horror role. Credited as simply “The Sinister Man”, Price’s screen time is little more than a guest appearance, but his few of scenes are undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Some have complained about the vulgarity in his scenes but it’s difficult not to chuckle since the actor is clearly relishing the opportunity to send-up is traditional screen persona, particularly in the amusing outburst when Price tells one of the villagers to “piss off”. The scenes involving Price and the Devil worshipers (who include such reliable British comedy favorites as Graham Stark, Pat Ashton and David Lodge) evoke the memory of the 1960s Amicus and Tigon/AIP pictures, and one wonders if this era of horror film would have provided material more suited to the overall film.
Regardless of the film’s strengths and weaknesses, Nucleus Films should be praised for releasing the largely forgotten BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH. Making its worldwide DVD premiere, the company tracked down the original vault negatives and the film has been remastered to stunning quality. The image quality, blemish-free without a speck of damage or dirt, is sharp and presented at its current ratio of 1:85:1 (anamorphically enhanced).
Likewise, the soundtrack is equally flawless and is offered in either its original mono mix, or a new 5.1 surround remix which sounds superb.
Extras include a 23-minute documentary entitled RUNNING THE BLOODBATH. Nucleus invited several people involved with the production to participate in this featurette but most of them were either unavailable or uninterested. Thankfully, executive producers Stuart D. Donaldson and Laurence Myers are interviewed and offer a fascinating and enjoyable insight into the making of BLOODBATH. The documentary also utilizes archive footage of Kenny Everett promoting the film in Australia that is a welcome addition to the disc, as it allows those unfamiliar with his work a glimpse of what his television series was like. Also included on the disc are the British and American theatrical trailers (also presented 16×9) and the original screenplay that can be viewed in .pdf format via computer. There is also an image gallery featuring promotional materials and a few on-set stills of Vincent Price.