27 April 2006 | LewisJForce
Michael Armstrong talks us through the film that never was.
This film is available on disc in the UK from Anchor Bay as part of their Tigon box-set, along with 'The Beast in the cellar', 'Witchfinder General', 'Virgin Witch', and 'The Body Stealers'.
'Haunted House' was available on the late lamented Vampix video label in the early 1980's in the UK. That release was notable mostly for the dark, drabness of the print. It looks considerably improved here, with lustrous, bright colors and correct aspect ratio. The film itself is not up to much, but remains watchable for its late 60's period frills and a couple of effectively nasty murders.
What makes this incarnation of the film interesting is the director's commentary supplied as an audio extra. Michael Armstrong's career had unfortunate beginnings: He shot this flick, his first, when he was 24 and the experience was painful, with the film taken away from him and his original cut undone by studio re-writes and re-shoots. The following year he went to Germany to make 'Mark of the Devil' and suffered exactly the same fate. The financial success of both titles (especially 'Mark', which was a huge exploitation hit) was little consolation to the tyro film-maker and he vowed to stay away from movies until he was guaranteed complete creative control.
Armstrong here explains the changes made to his original concept in great detail, pointing out exactly which scenes he shot and how they would/should have fitted into his scheme of things. The film he wanted to make - 'The Dark' - certainly sounds pretty interesting the way he tells it, and the most frustrating thing about the whole episode is that it seemed to boil down to a personality clash between him and Louis 'Deke' Hayward, AIP'S man-in-London at the time.
Hayward tried to shoehorn Boris Karloff (who owed AIP one film as part of a contract) into the plot at various junctures, a ploy which Armstrong vigorously resisted, resulting in a war of wills that Hayward was destined to win. Hayward went on to extensively re-write the script, inserting Dennis Price as a policeman and George Sewell as a lurking spurned suitor, and employed a technician called Gerry Levy to shoot the necessary patch-up sequences. It's fascinating to watch the film whilst Armstrong indicates continuity errors in the insert sequences and identifies the various loose ends that commemorate the residue of his original script.
Its no surprise, then, that 'The Haunted House of Horror' is a bit of a mess. Its perhaps remarkable that it plays as well as it does. But I recommend this release for the commentary, yet another that uncovers machinations and interference undreamed of by the casual viewer. As an education in the unseen political wranglings of film-making it is most enlightening.