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Bloodbath At The House Of Death (1983)

History has not been kind to Kenny Everett. When you consider he was a much-loved entertainer who died far too young, had armies of loyal fans in his day, and proved to be a maverick and hugely influential talent, it seems odd that he has been almost forgotten. Everett’s brand of nudge-nudge “get ‘em off” humour, which was pretty much the lewdest thing it was possible to see on the telly in the early 80s, was as knowingly ironic as modern offerings like Little Britain, yet modern commentators have a tendency to lump his shows in with sexist rubbish like The Benny Hill Show. Which, frankly, is an insult to the man. Just because his perennial stooge Cleo Roccos was constantly in danger of cascading out of her flimsy tops, and his groundbreaking TV shows were always graced with a visit from dance troupe Hot Gossip (a group of filthy-looking scrubbers in rubber dresses draping themselves suggestively over musclebound black blokes), that’s no reason to think of him as some kind of sad, gurning pervert. For one thing the guy was as gay as a window.

His main problem was that although his shows were very funny, they relied to a huge extent on technology which, at the time, was cutting edge – but has now dated incredibly badly. What cost thousands to produce on enormous computer back then wouldn’t even cut the mustard in a primary school classroom these days. Which means it is unlikely we’ll ever see his shows treated to a prime time BBC1 slot like 2004’s Two Ronnies retrospective. The other reason for his ongoing entertainment blacklisting is probably Bloodbath At The House Of Death.

Watched now, Bloodbath can be seen as a kitsch classic by viewers who are willing to suspend not only their disbelief, but their sense of humour as well. But even the most generous Everett fan has to admit that it really isn’t very good.

As the film starts, we are told that it is “August the 12th, 1975… Thursday… give or take a day”. At the local “Businessmen’s weekend retreat and girls summer camp”, dirty work is afoot. Robed monk-like figures are on the prowl, and it’s not long before they burst in and massacre everyone inside the mansion in a welter of orgiastic violence – a couple are blasted in their bed with a shotgun, others are stabbed, slashed, thrown out of windows and hung from the rafters. One girl backs away from her attacker pleading for her life, but even her promises of a bit of passion are rudely snuffed out.

The next day the puzzled police find the house covered with severed body parts, but admit they haven’t got a clue as to the cause.

Someone who has walked into this review halfway in (if that’s possible) might be forgiven, from this opening description, for thinking that Bloodbath At The House Of Death is some forgotten “video nasty” which slipped into oblivion after suffering a BBFC ban in the early 80s. But although these scenes are astonishingly strong, even for a genuine horror film, this is actually a comedy. Of sorts.

There have been a few clues as to the films supposed comic roots – the monks have already proved to be clumsy oafs as they make their way through the woods around the house (“Oh… shit!”) and the police chief (Barry Cryer) supervises the clean-up operation unaware that there’s blood dripping onto his hair from a severed head above him (no, it’s actually not a hugely funny moment now I come to think about it…). But so far the film has been a distinctly dour affair. And things aren’t going to get a whole lot lighter for the next 80 minutes, no matter how Kenny and his band of British sitcom stalwarts try.

Bloodbath is a mixture of gross-out horror/comedy (there’s an awful lot of blood splattering the walls), typical Everett zaniness (his character has a German accent and a false leg, for no reason other than it gives him a chance to act up for the cameras) and skits on genre favourites (American Werewolf, Carrie, Jaws, The Entity, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Alien, a touch of Star Wars, maybe even British classic City Of The Dead). But sadly, it seems that someone forgot to put in any actual jokes (which considering the level of talent on display – Cryer, for one - is nothing short of astonishing). Even worse, especially considering the subject of this website, Bloodbath also acts as the full stop on the lengthy British horror film career of Vincent Price. Yes, the man who brought us Phibes, Hopkins, Lionheart and a host of others, through a long and glittering career, played out his last moments on British horror celluloid spouting vulgar language and not making a great deal of sense.

The entire pub is astonished to see that Everett’s flies are undone

The story skips forward to the present day, when Everett’s Germanic scientist character and fellow boffin Pamela Stephenson are on their way to Headstone Manor (the scene of the opening massacre) to conduct research into radioactive phenomena there. They stop off at the local pub to ask for directions, but in the grand tradition of a dozen Hammer films, the locals fall silent on their entrance. However, far from being concerned about the scientists’ destination, the entire pub is astonished to see that Everett’s flies are undone (this acts as a benchmark for the level of humour in the rest of the film - I’m ashamed to record that I laughed). The visitors notice that a strange emblem is plastered all over the walls of the pub, and repeated on tattoos on the locals’ skin and anywhere else it might raise a cheap laugh. Everett attempts to explain the ghastly history of the manor, and the slaying of the 18 people there, but his monologue gets taken over and leads to a pub sing-along (to the tune of “The 12 Days Of Christmas”).

After this Everett and Stephenson carry on their journey to the manor, where they meet up with the rest of Everett’s team (Gareth Hunt, Don Warrington, Sheila Steafel, John Hill, John Fortune and Cleo Rocos).

Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, Vincent Price (billed as simply “Sinister Man”) is attempting to keep control of his argumentative coven (“Piss off? For seven hundred years I have served our master… You piss off!”). Seemingly aware that this could be his Brit horror swansong, Price is in full-on ham-it-up mode, blow-torching waxwork dummies (shades of Phibes there), holding forth with huge monologues about worshipping Satan (Vincent: “The master returns… tonight!” / Acolyte: “How shall we recognise him?” / Vincent: “You’ll know him when you see him, stupid!”), and pronouncing words like “hobbledehoys” with lip-smacking relish.

Back at Headstone Manor, we’re learning more about the scientific group through some weird flashbacks. Everett’s character used to be a surgeon, but was struck off for overreacting when everyone (including the patient) started laughing at his ineptitude during a gory operation (“I know what it’s like to be laughed at!” he says at one point. It’s worth mentioning here that he’s probably not talking about this particular film). Steafel’s character is psychic and it turns out that as a teenager she killed her God-bothering mother (who walked around wearing a mini confessional) Carrie-style by chopping her head off with a tin opener (a well done, if slightly implausible, effect).

In case you hadn’t noticed, if there ever was a plot it has now completely vanished and has been replaced by a rag-bag of variable sketches, the best of which involves Price and his acolytes getting ready to storm the mansion (again) and make it ready for the arrival of the devil (or something). Vincent is leading a chant, with his acolytes repeating each line…

“Oh master, we are preparing for your arrival…” (repeated sing-song style)

“…because you are the prince of darkness…” (repeated)

“…and we are your… Oh shit! My hand!” (repeated)

“Stupid bloody candles!” (repeated)

“Shut up! Stop it! Will you stop it!” (all repeated)

“There’s always one…” (pause, and then repeated by one acolyte)

“To the woods!” (fight breaks out)

Other sketches include a literal library, with the titles of each book becoming a reality (“The Sudden Spear”, “The Silent Fart”), Pamela Stephenson doing a tasteless “no means yes” rape scene with an invisible assailant (“No! No! Oo.. this is fantastic! I get it, I’m just another one night stand… I suppose I’ll never see you again…”) and Everett squirming Alien-style on the kitchen table before revealing he’s just got a bad case of wind.

All Price’s acolytes then explode and are recreated as doppelgangers of the scientists. The scientists are then messily killed and replaced, one by one, in a variety of ever more stupid ways (the best one being a bathroom scene where blood starts pouring from every tap, the shower, and even the walls before the victim is pulled into the toilet by a pair of bloody hands).

The ending is, if anything, even more lame than the proceeding 80-odd minutes and could rank as the worst in this survey (“I don’t know what she sees in him…”).

Bloodbath has been described as “desperate” and “a disaster” (Andy Boot in Fragments Of Fear), and in his marvellous tome English Gothic, Jonathan Rigby actually said “words cannot adequately describe how bad Bloodbath At The House Of Death is”. Seeing the film today, both these reactions seem a bit harsh. Yes, Bloodbath is saddled with many jokes that just don’t work, and a few that raise a laugh just because they’re so bad (for example the one famous scene, when spooky Jaws music turns out to be Everett sitting on the toilet playing the cello). But the opening scene, the inclusion of Vincent Price and one or two effective horror skits raise it slightly above the level of “unmitigated”.

It’s a film of halves – half the jokes work (on a very base level), there’s half a plot, but it’s also a distinctly uneven half nasty horror and half daft comedy. It smacks of egos run wild, budgets suddenly cut and a desperate cinema release in an attempt to claw back some of the investment (the makers, seeing “cuddly” Everett at the peak of his career on the television, can’t have been expecting this cataclysmic, offensive mess). Throughout, things begin to happen for no reason at all and with little thought for continuity (it is never explained what the devil worshippers are actually up to, and most of the scientist’s deaths make no sense at all).

However, as with all things there are glimmers of gold amongst the shite, and my favourite joke comes right at the end of the film, when Everett screams “Look out! Aagh! A bat!” and gets clunked on the head by… “A cricket bat?” (a secret door opens) “Must’ve been an opening bat…”

A few more jokes like that and we’d have a winner on our hands.

Updated: February 11, 2010

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Bloodbath At The House Of Death 1983

Bloodbath At The House Of Death 1983

Bloodbath At The House Of Death 1983

 

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