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Monday, November 20, 2017

The House of Seven Corpses (1974)



I’ve never considered The House of Seven Corpses a zombie movie before. But after my most recent watching I realized that it is. Not in a world is about to end flesh-eaters kind of way, but in a more traditional zombie as a tool of revenge way. I’m adding this to the zombie marathon list.

This low budget horror movie follows the crew of a low budget horror movie as they shoot in a creepy old house with a history of murder. The credits play over a series of murders which tie into the graves located near the house. The groundskeeper, played by legendary actor John Carradine, warns them about shooting their project in the house. All of the deaths were related to the occult and he fears they are tampering with something they can’t possibly understand. In another bit of dialogue the character also lets them know that one of the graves is unmarked. That is important later.

So of course, the film crew ignores the warnings and keeps shooting the movie. Even after the lead actresses’ cat is cut in half and left on the front lawn! Well these things happen I suppose. To make matters worse when actor/writer/cameraman David finds a book of the dead and decides to not only read it but include some of the lines in the script. Repeatedly chanting from the book surely won’t have any negative effects, right? Well they do manage to summon a zombie from the graveyard who starts to kill the cast and crew. Why the heck was David so obsessed with the book? Well there might be a good reason…

I’ve always liked this movie. It has a creepy gothic vibe with the old house cloaked in darkness. While they have generators for the equipment to shoot the movie the power in the house is off. Wandering around in the dark using candles to navigate at night becomes a big part of the movie. We get some jump scares before the real ones and also some beautiful shots that establish the scale of the house which helps create a sense of isolation. Not only is the house in the middle of nowhere, but the cast and crew can even get lost in the mansion because of its size. I know that I just mentioned the sense of isolation but that plays heavily into the mood of The House of Seven Corpses. This is a slow burn that builds tension and paranoia until it ends in a final crescendo of violence and death.

Not a bad looking zombie.
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned beautiful shots. The camera is set at odd angles and creates a sense of unease. There are also shots using the stairwell where the camera is sometimes at a distance shooting from above or below when the scene is set on the staircase. This helps establish the size of the house and connects back to the sense of isolation necessary to make the climax of the movie work. I also loved the lighting where you have characters partially in shadow or see them come out of shadows while the other actors are in frame. It makes for a creepy movie.

This brings me to my only real issue with the movie. I don’t know if it is the editing or if they moved the sequence of events around but there is a huge flaw in The House of Seven Corpses. You will have scenes set late at night, the characters even mention the time of day. And then they will be walking around outside in broad daylight! This is most obvious in the climax of the movie. The zombie climbs out of the grave and shuffles to the house in the dark. The director and David stroll to get shots of the graveyard a few minutes later and it is daytime. Back to the house it is night. Back to the graveyard for a big reveal day. This repeats a few times. With the care that was put into the rest of the movie this is a mindboggling error.

That one big flaw doesn’t ruin The House of Seven Corpses for me. I still think there is too much going on in its favor. I recommend it.



© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

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