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The House on Skull Mountain/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< The House on Skull Mountain
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When a wealthy elderly woman dies, her family is summoned to a secluded rural estate for the reading of her will.

1974’s The House on Skull Mountain (a black-cast take on 1959’s House on Haunted Hill) should be a lot more fun; if not scary. The format is certainly in place: gather together a diverse group of people (in this case four), put them up in a creepy, worn-looking and “sinister” mansion (exterior shots fit the bill complete with a skull doorknocker, but interiors are seventies Mod), and read a cryptic Last Will and Testament. But, as is often the case with blaxploitation’s cursory look at the horror genre— Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde being an exception; at least that film was, at times, funny—House just doesn’t deliver.

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The assembled cast at the always-rain-soaked abode (positioned precariously atop a giant “mountain” that, from a distance, looks like a skull) include rakish, jive-talking Phillipe (Mike Evans—best known as Lionel on TV’s The Jeffersons but also the creator and writer of TV’s Good Times); overly mannered and doll-like Lorena (Janee Michelle); kind-hearted, church-going Harriet (Xernona Clayton); and a confused about his racial origins “white” anthropologist: Andrew (Victor French). Manservant/Voodoo Priest (Jean Durand) clairvoyantly observes (and dictates) the proceedings at hand.

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Hazily conceived (is someone falling to their death down an elevator shaft scary or merely unfortunate?), un-inventively photographed (save a commendable optical illusion shot; a woman seated at a vanity table framed like a skull—an homage to American illustrator Charles Allan Gilbert’s “All is Vanity”), stretched (a fifteen minute [fifteen minutes?!] secret cave Voodoo ritual complete with writhing, shrieking, spellbound, dancers); and an off-site field trip (accompanied by the truly awful “Love Has Gently Come this Morning” performed by Ella Woods), all conspire to make this Atlanta, Georgia-filmed feature an 89 minute “sold as is” property in need of extensive renovation.

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Josiah Howard is the author of four books including the seminal Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and The Village Voice. A veteran of more than 100 radio broadcasts he is a regular contributor to Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014-15 made regular appearances on TV One’s award-winning documentary series Unsung. Visit his Official Website.
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