THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES (released in December of 1973), is an obscure, low budget Gothic(ish) horror film starring the lovely 1950s scream queen Faith Domergue. John Ireland gets top billing and old-time horror movie actor David Carradine appears in a supporting role.
There are some gems within this campy, sometimes silly, movie, primarily Ms. Domergue, who was forty-eight or forty-nine during filming. The narrative is straightforward enough. A supernatural horror movie is being produced in an old mansion where seven residents met mysterious, violent deaths. The main star of the production, Gayle Dorian (Domergue), reads from the TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD as part of her screen role. In the nested film, Ms. Dorian is playing a 19th century witch in New England (or so it seems to take place there). Just outside of the house, her reading in the scene being filmed inadvertently, actually animates a long-dead resident. Violent incidents begin to happen, starting with the sudden death of Ms. Dorian’s pet cat.
The movie opens with Faith delivering a monologue in which she has cast a witch’s circle and is summoning a spirit. She brings pure elegance and intrigue to the rather routine, cliched material she is left to work with here. A pleasant foil to the character of Gayle is Eric Hartman (John Ireland), an impatient, veteran movie director. He and Gayle are old flames who maintain a romance-filled friendship and working relationship, including on this current project. Their brief moments of chemistry and tension seem genuine.
Ms. Domergue delivers at least one good one liner that I can recall, this occurring in a scene where she and a makeup man argue about her eye wrinkles being “laugh lines” vs. “crow’s feet.” She may have said another one elsewhere that I’ve already forgotten. Regardless, the actress’ delivery is consistently smooth and elegant, due to her beautifully unique sloe eyed face and seductive voice. Her dyed-brown hair enhanced with a fall is visually remarkable, a holdover from 1960s fashion. While watching, I wondered if the project was all largely built around this underrated star of B movies. A quick Google search indicated this was the second to last film she appeared in before retiring from cinema altogether. I got the sense that THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES was a homage to Faith.
Some particularly colorful supporting characters are Edgar Price (Carradine), the long-time caretaker of the home, and the drunken, frustrated Shakespearean actor Christopher Millan (Charles Macaulay). They offer more amusing moments to this campily entertaining screenplay. Writers Paul Harrison (who also directed) and Thomas J. Kelly go for the tongue-in-cheek, which comes through in many of the players’ sardonic responses to others on the set.
For people who enjoyed watching DARK SHADOWS and/or STRANGE PARADISE, this movie will likely seem to be inspired by those slightly earlier produced television series. I appreciated the look and feel of both of those shows (which I admittedly hardly watched) and this film, in each of which the grand house is a central character.
The movie within a movie approach is both fun and effective here, a classic means of turning a mirror on Hollywood and the movie making experience. We the audience are allowed both distance/larger perspective while also being drawn into the actors’ lives, especially Gayle’s and Eric’s. When reality outside of the dramatized, nested film production finally converges with the actual movie we the audience are watching, a sweeping sense of the theatrical happens. I often laughed out of amusement while smiling with a wistful respect for both the characters and actors playing them. It looked like everyone was having fun within this simple, now dated script and set up, even if this may actually not have been the case and only an illusion. But, playing with illusion is what movies are usually about in some way or another, and THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES is often a play of sorts and very much filled with verbal and visual play.