Welcome back to TV Tuesday, Euro style! This week’s entry is a film directed by one of my favorite schlockmeisters, Umberto Lenzi. Lenzi’s work has given me much joy with such ridiculous but boldly entertaining flicks as Nightmare City, Welcome To Spring Break, and of course, one of my all-time favorite haunted house head rollers, the Evil Dead ripoff Ghosthouse!
Unfortunately, this post will not be as glowing as some of the love letters to Lenzi I have written in the past, because today I watched the 1989 TV movie House of Lost Souls. Here Lenzi takes on the impossible task of doing his own version of The Shining, only this time there’s no businesslike Mr. Ullman or sweet shining Chef Halloran keeping the place nice for the guests to arrive; nope, the hotel in this film, named something like “Hotel of the Hermit,” has been closed for 20 years and there ain’t nobody home but the haints.
Five paleontologists and the pre-pubescent kid brother of two of them have just finished an eight week camping trip in the Italian Alps. They’re trying to get back to civilization, but a landslide has other plans and blocks the road. So they take the advice of the ten year old in the group and stop a few miles back at the Hotel of the Hermit. Although the place is closed, suddenly a light comes on and a silent man beckons them in after they beg him to make an exception. Soon the psychic one of the group sees a man kill two people with a hatchet, only she sees it on an unplugged TV which then blows up. The other woman in the group goes looking for the rest, who are assisting Madame Ruby, and gets locked into a walk-in freezer by someone with a rotting arm and hand. There are two dead people hanging in the freezer, but once the other paleontologists rescue her, there are no corpses.
Of course no one believes either of them, even though the little brother also had a nightmare about spiders and blood and was found in his bed temporarily dead by the others. Yes, he died in his sleep and had to be revived. So they give him a tranquilizer and sit around arguing about whether something weird is going on until morning comes and two of them decide to go out for sandwiches and booze.
While the two guys go out for supplies, they run into a hot chick they met the day before at the gas station when she interviewed them for television on the subject of “the environment.” She explains that the hotel is vacant and everyone who stayed there was murdered 20 years ago by the owner. So they freak out and determine that they have to rescue the others. But first they have to hit the library to research the murders, and the stop by the graveyard and interview the town’s very articulate and mournful gravedigger. By this time the lady who had been locked in the freezer has been decapitated by ghosts, and the younger brother has been decapitated by a clothes dryer. I’ll just move onto the next paragraph while that sinks in.
Will anyone escape with their lives? And should you care? This film drags like a 45 record on 33, and the script had to be written by the Retard-o-Tron 3000, but it does provide the eerie feeling we’re looking for when we watch these films. So it’s up to you. For me it was worth a watch, but I would be ending this review prematurely if I didn’t tell you about some more batshit elements of the script.
First of all, dear God, the dialogue. The beginning of the film features the following exchange, after the psychic chick has just had a vision of a Tibetan monk hacking into the bleeding head of a gold Buddha statue with a hatchet: “Hey, the doctors gave you a reasonable explanation. They said you have psychic powers! You’re a medium!”
“I don’t wanna be a medium, I don’t!” Yep, she was medically diagnosed as a medium. Later, the kid brother tells a random gas station attendant, “See this rock? It was formed ten million years ago, before Lt. Kojak had his first lollipop.” Because that’s what 10 year old kids were watching in 1989, Kojak. He also makes references later on to Magnum P.I. and Columbo. Yet for all his sleuth fandom he manages to get himself decapitated by a clothes dryer.
Next there is the TV reporter character and her cameraman. They exist for no other reason than to move the story along, which is normal. But then she follows the guys to the library, and when they come out, the cameraman films them walking down the steps. Later, after the ghosts have trapped the survivors behind impenetrable blocks of concrete that cover every door and window despite the fact that the people just walked back into the hotel, the reporter and camera guy drive up at 3 AM because she’s worried about the paleontologists. But then they leave without investigating.
Worst of all, though, is when the main character decides that he’s going to take his metal detector and check all the walls to see if he can find the heads of the original victims, the ones whose ghosts are now murdering everyone with knives, chainsaws, gross fingernails, and major appliances. How he expects to find skulls with a metal detector I don’t know, maybe by finding fillings? But he DOES find them that way!
And just why are these characters written as paleontologists and not just your garden variety drunk ‘n’ horny camping dumbasses? It makes about as much sense as everyone being a ham radio operator in Ghosthouse, although at least the ham radio bullshit played into the story because it played the sounds of a murder from the future. House of Lost Souls seems to be trying to duplicate the “success” of Ghosthouse, although the sounds of the future here become the visions of the past. Both movies have got that urge to tranquilize young children who have been traumatized, though, and a knowledgeable gravedigger. Anyway, I guess a paleontologist worked as a character for eight years on Friends. Maybe the creators of Friends were fans of House of Lost Souls. Yeah, that’s probably the connection.
Worse even than the metal detector subplot is the ham handed attempt at moral statements this film makes. Besides the stupid interview about the environment. When the kid is bending the gas station attendant’s ear about rocks and Kojak, all the guy has to say is “Kids watch too much TV.” Then the kid ends up being the first one to get killed, because he goes back in the hotel to listen to a soccer game on the radio. The next person killed is the lady paleontologist who wears her Walkman too much. In fact, the reason she gets lured into the freezer the night before she is killed is because her Walkman drowns out the sound of everyone else freaking out about the exploding TV and she goes wandering off by herself. Clearly these ghosts, as well as Lenzi, have it in for media junkies, and I wonder if he cared about the irony involved seeing as how he was making this anti-TV statement in a trashy TV movie. I’d better take a metal detector to the walls of my house to see if there are any angry disembodied heads who don’t like TV.
So anyway, what have we learned from House of Lost Souls? Well, sometimes the gravedigger is more knowledgeable than the librarian. And if the owner of the hotel where you are staying keeps the washers and dryers in the attic instead of the basement, he will probably chop your head off, so go to Motel 6. At the end, it is because of “dirty politics” that the officials in the town don’t want the news reporters sharing the story about how four people were hacked to death by ghosts. And finally, House of Lost Souls may be awful, but at least its not as bad as Black Demons.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention that this film also features a dumbwaiter guillotine. Truly this is a so-bad-it’s-good 80s TV “classic.”