[Reprinted from Hey, Did You Ever See the Movie...?]
In 1975, on a Thursday, give or take a day, 18 people were murdered to death at Headstone Manor via various means of dispatchment at the hands of red-hooded monks. This is the film’s funniest sequence. Immediately following, we meet several pairs of scientists, two law-enforcement officers who may or may not but probably are gay, and a randy dating couple, all head over to said Manor in “The Present” (aka 1983) to measure radiation and see if there was anything unusual about the day when those 18 people were killed, mutilated and otherwise treated badly.
Meanwhile, Vincent Price heads up that cadre of red-hooded monks as a 700-year-old Warlock (or something) and this group only live to serve their master, Satan, who is also an alien, who is personified as Headstone Manor, the sentient and muchly evil house that must be vacant in order to achieve maximum evilness.
This Airplane-style horror comedy wants oh-so desperately to be Return to Horror High. It tries so very hard. They even got Vincent Price to play a character referred to (in the credits only) as “The Sinister Man”. There are buckets of blood and gags every few seconds. Amazingly, to we who have been conditioned by Family Guy and The Wayans Brothers to expect jokes to be stomped thoroughly into the ground, lit afire and insulted, the jokes are quick and clean—they get in and get out and move on. Overall, it’s generally funny, but it just goes on too long. About midway through, the story becomes hopelessly incomprehensible as Price and the monks burst into flames and are replaced by doppelgangers of our main characters who are quickly and gruesomely murdered and replaced again. Sometimes. And sometimes they’re not. Honestly, I have no idea. The nefarious plot is revealed five minutes prior to the end credit roll and it had left me behind at least half an hour before.
Bloodbath at the House of Death was created to showcase the not inconsiderable talents of British comedian Kenny Everett. His writing partners on The Kenny Everett Show, Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron, wrote the script with Cameron directing (his only feature film), and Everett stars as the primary scientist who harbors the horrible secret of once being German. The humor is very British throughout, in that it is more droll than hilarious. Their infrequent attempts at course American humor (involving profanity, naturally) usually falls flatter than the quick word-play or even slapstick. The funniest death scene in the film goes to the Carrie parody involving decapitation-by-can-opener. And if you still aren’t sold, it’s known among horror fans as “the movie where Vincent Price swears”. And he swears an awful lot. Oddly, that actually is funny.
For the longest time, Bloodbath at the House of Death was only available on VHS from Media Home Entertainment, copies of which can still be found on Amazon. There seems to have also been a tie-in novelization by Martin Noble, but I’m not quite sure if it’s related. Allegedly, there was a British DVD struck, from which the print I “obtained” was struck, and it’s head and shoulders above the VHS, of course. Particularly during the opening shots when you can plainly see that the house was shot in unsuccessful day-for-night. On VHS, these shots are simply blurry blobs with windows.
Whether or not there will be a re-release of the DVD available commercially in the U.S., I would like to weigh in and say “unlikely”, as I don’t see an existing market for a sporadically funny horror movie known best as “the movie where Vincent Price swears.”