Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Juju

One of the things I don't miss about blaxploitation horror movies is the opening shots of voodoo ceremonies. It's like clockwork: bongos and wallahs before the credits have even rolled. This appears again during the opening of The House on Skull Mountain (directed by Ron Honthaner), a relative obscurity from 1974. There's a reason it's obscure: it pretty much sucks.

The story here finds the old woman who lives in the house at the top of Skull Mountain--it has a skull carved on it--passing on. She sends out several letters with her priest before she dies and, lo and behold, a group of strangers assembles, presumably for the reading of her will. The will requires them all to stay in the house for a week to inherit, and, sure enough, someone begins to pick them off one by one. There's a voodoo back story here, too, given that the family is descended from a Haitian voodoo King.

There are all kinds of problems with this movie. First: it's clinging to an outmoded model of horror. I mean, The House on Haunted Hill scenario was fine in 1958, but 1974 was the year of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The game had changed radically; this movie is so out of its league that it might as well be playing a different sport all together. The second problem is the performances. I can't remember a movie with more stilted line readings than this one, or more obnoxious characters. I found myself wishing for all of them to die horribly, which is never a good sign. Finally, the filmmaking is downright incompetent. This looks like a TV movie. It's badly over-lit, for one thing. It's got the worst day for night sequences I've ever seen for another. Hell, it doesn't even pay lip service for matching its shots. I mean, just look at this sequence of shots from early in the movie:

Our heroine steps out of her car and looks at the house. It's bright and sunny.

The house on Skull Mountain. Where did all this gloom and fog come from?

No, wait, it's still sunny.

Now it's sunny on Skull Mountain.

That's a relief.

Hold on a second! It's gloomy again. Sheesh. Make up your minds, guys.

As you can see, basic film craft eludes this movie, and it's so overt about it that it sabotages any chance for an audience to take it seriously. It's bad juju all around.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 20

First Time Viewings: 20

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