Who doesn’t love samurai movies? Well, I suppose there are some who don’t love samurai movies. Well, who doesn’t love horror movies? Okay, there are quite a few people who aren’t fond of those either. However, if you are one of those people who love both samurai movies AND horror movies, you’re in luck. Today we have a film that brings them together, 1982’s The House Where Evil Dwells.
The film concerns a writer named Ted Fletcher (Edward Albert) who moves to Japan with his wife Laura (Susan George), and their young daughter. Ted’s friend Alex (Doug McClure) manages to find them a fantastic house in a peaceful rural area that dates back over 100 years. Plus, it’s ultra cheap! Now, that’s because some claim the house is haunted, but that doesn’t bug Ted and his family. Oh, don’t these people ever learn?
Of course, strange things start happening as we see that there are three japanese ghosts hanging out in the home; all participants in a murder-suicide carried out by a jealous samurai who found his wife bumpin’ uglies with another man 140 years earlier. These ghosts dump bowls of rice and make swords fly around; standard haunted house sort of stuff. However, these spirits also have the ability to possess folks. The murdered wife is especially fond of hoping into Susan’s body and causing her to get all seductive with the hapless Alex, which leads to an affair. When the ghosts take the form of giant spider crabs and attack the young daughter, a monk is brought in to rid the house of pesky poltergeists. They aren’t going easily, though.
Essentially what we have here is The Amityville Horror goes to Japan. Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of the original Amityville. It’s fine, but nothing spectacular. Amityville II: The Possession, on the other hand, is bonkers fun, and Amityville 3-D is awful, but at least has 80’s Meg Ryan in it. I gotta say, though, I found the idea of an Amityville style story with a cultural twist to be intriguing, and it is to a degree. The story of a doomed love triangle set in the time of samurais is a creative place to start for a modern haunted house story. The film’s prologue where we see the murder-suicide play out is probably the film’s strongest moment. Of course, you never want your film’s best moment to be the first five minutes, do you?
The problem is that this film has some ultra cheesy elements that really diminish a lot of the film’s effectiveness. The three ghosts, especially, are a bit lame. We, the audience, can see these translucent, blue-tinted ghouls, but the other characters on screen cannot. The ghosts possess people by just walking over and standing where the other actor is standing. The actor gives a little jerk, and since that’s the universal symbol for “this person is now possessed,” we know what’s going on. These possessions become so frequent that they start to get a bit ridiculous. I kept wanting to see the ghosts pull out some other tricks. Make the walls bleed, put a vortex in the linen closed…something? Sure, at one point a ghostly face appears in the little girl’s soup, but that becomes an unintentional moment of comedy. As does the scene with the giant crab spider, which looks like it was pulled right from the wind-up toy display at Kay-bee.
The film is not very scary, but it does take every opportunity for exploitation. It has some bloody sequences and not one but two big decapitation moments. I mean, when samurai swords are sittin’ right there waitin’ to be used, you gotta lob off a few melons. Exceeding the bloodshed, though, is the amount of skin on display as Susan George and Edward Albert participate in a very lengthy and very naked love scene. George and Doug McClure then do their own version of the scene later on.
The House where Evil Dwells certainly gets points for having an original take on a haunted house yarn. It pulled me in rather quickly. Sadly it doesn’t deliver to the degree I was hoping for. It has a few fun moments, but There’s a Ghost in my Soup would’ve been a more accurate title.