One of my alltime favorite movies to obsess over in the darkened wee hours of the morning has always been MURDER MANSION, or La Mansión de la niebla, a 1972 Spanish/Italian co-production encompassing elements of the supernatural thriller, giallo-style murder mystery, and a delicious take on the old Haunted House formula that continues to deliver the intoxicatingly arty, atmospheric thrills more than thirty years later.
THE PLOT: A seemingly diverse group of couples and ne're do wells end up sharing a deserted mansion in the middle of nowhere to escape a fog-bound night that effectively traps them in a setting totally cut off from the outside world. Andres Resino, his hair grown in hippie-style after playing a globe trotting Interpol agent in the Paul Naschy classic WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, makes a convincing lead as a thrill-seeking motorcyclist traveling with the always delightful Evelyn Stewart through the mountains of southern Italy when a shortcut through a legendary, mysterious valley takes a turn for the worse and the pair find themselves stranded at the aforemention mansion with an otherwise improbable collection if cult Eurohorror supporting actors & actresses [Alberto Dalbes, Analie Gade, Analise Nardi and frequent Jess Franco actor Eduardo Fajardo] who, for one reason or another, have found themselves in a similar pickle. They bicker, split up into handily furnished bedrooms and retire to wait out the foggy night.
Fortunately, the mansion is situated right next to a creepy, terminally fog-enshrouded graveyard where not all of the corpses seem content to rest in piece, and mayhem ensues as the ghosts of the sole survivors of a vampire massacre start to walk the earth to harrangue the impromptu guests of their former mansion. To say anything more specific about the plot would ruin the fun for those who have never seen it: Rest assured, however, that MURDER MANISON does indeed live up to it's name & reputation, weaving together such elements as a creepy family legend, a bodiless head, a hanging corpse, the zombie Oddjob like cheauffer of a deceased aristocratic Contessa, and a brutal finale that results in madness & a respectable body count in what is essentially a bloodless shocker who's parts add up to far more than you might expect.
I am especially drawn to the film's tight, spare but visually rich cinematography & camerawork. There is quite simply not a single unnecessary shot or scene in the film [at least in the forms that still exist], with a prowling camera that draws the viewer into the story in a way that goes beyond merely documenting Luis G. de Blaine's wonderful screenplay -- another one of those lower budgeted Eurohorror efforts that seems to have been inspired by a SCOOBY DOO WHERE ARE YOU? cartoon of one sort or another. Indeed the movie has the look of the panels of a "graphic novel" or cartoon, with each scene dripping with atmospheric set decoration & camerawork stressing color compositions and mood. The film has a modern day setting but is total Gothic Horror at it's best, with delightful touches like the horrifying artwork festooning the walls of the various bedrooms that only a thoroughly tranquilized person could sleep next to, a gorgeous duplicitous femme fatale with lesbian overtones to her concerns for one of the "guests" in particular, and above all else, FOG.
What MURDER MANSION's makers may have had to skimp on budget-wise as far as technical or location expenses is more than made up for in the foggiest & most beautifully lit spaces filled with fog that I have ever seen. MURDER MANSION is a great study on how to use fog, actually, in a way that contributes to a movie's production design rather than obscuring it -- Whole scenes are dominated by an almost suffocating murkiness that you could metaphorically cut with a knife, yet even with the plot's emphasis on using the fog as a device it never becomes a cheapended, gimmicky effect. There's fog outside, inside & under this old house, and as one character literally phrases it, they all seem to have entered a different world that is unreal or supernatural in nature.
Of additional cult interest is the presence of the mysterious Ingrid Garbo, one of the famous "Greek Chorus" of sexually vivacious Vampire Playgirls featured in the likewise Paul Naschy fanger COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE, though sadly her bedsheet stays firmly in place during her one scene ... But she still exudes the seedy sluttiness that made her such a delightful presence in Naschy's movie, and it looks to me as though some of the interior shots from MURDER MANSION were staged in the same house used to film that classic favorite. Dunno though: after a couple hundred movies some of these houses start to look identical or hard to tell apart, and that is kind of the point of how the mansion is used by Polop & company: It is an archytipical setting for what starts out as a very stereotypical Eurohorror, but changes gear in the fourth act & throws the viewers a curve ball that spins off of the conventions they are used to from similar efforts populated by fog, undead vampire victims & femme fatale female vixens.
And the best part about MURDER MANSION is that it is a FUN movie; watching it is a wonderful study in Eurohorror, adding elements from so many different sources that what it ends up as has little or nothing to do with the different conventions employed to tell it's story -- Some viewers may be disappointed with the literal resolution of the story, but I think it just plays into the SCOOBY DOO nature of the story's origins, complete with Meddling Kids who work as sort of Mystery Investigators, if you like, who just want to get to the bottom of the story. Well cast and brimming with memorable images & moments, this is a Eurohorror effort that stands apart from the rest by being so plot & visual-oriented, with no outrageous sex or violence sequences for viewers to dwell over and otherwise distract them from the sheer enjoyment of just watching this movie and letting it happen onscreen as it will.
While this may be partly the result of the English language form that is most commonly known being cut, there doesn't really have seemed to be a lot of room in the script for bizarre violence & sex, and for my money this movie is suitable as-is for viewers of any age who like good movies, horror buff or no. MURDER MANSION is readily available in what I have found to be two distinctly different versions: Both are full frame presentations, the first apparently sourced from masters derived from the 83 minute version released in 1986 by Charter Video on VHS and available from Incredibly Strange Film Works on an excellent Codefree DVD release, with a similar transfer also found on Brentwood Home Video's HELL IN THE FAMILY two DVD box set, backed with the infamous US edit of IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN by the great Sergio Martino. Both versions run about 83 minutes and look fabulous, appearing to have been sourced from actual studio master reels and not an old VHS tape. But the standout release is another surprise from our acid eatin' freakazoid buddies at Something Weird Video , who have their own 16mm film print that clocks in at 85 minutes & 30 odd seconds, and has some additional lesbian innuendo and some additional creepy footage from the movie's shock sequences that Charter apparently found inappropriate for their likewise unrated release. At most this film would garner a PG rating even with what is present, but the possibility of other excised footage does exist, and doubtlessly there is longer Spanish and/or Italian language release that may or may not have been prepared for home video at some point, though none is described.
Seek out that Something Weird Video VHS! But even if only one of the DVD releases or an old Charter video is within your grasp, you are guaranteed a movie that will demand repeat viewings & is guaranteed to become a favorite, even if the vampire fangs stay off in this one.
The Bottom Line: ***1/2 [out of a possible ****] SQ040703
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