Ghosthouse (1988)

Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse just about has all the trademarks of a late era Italian horror. A haunted house. “Teenage” victims. Gore. Cheesiness. Bad acting. It’s all there, and it’s all good.

Back in 1967, a crazy father discovers his cat murdered in his basement, and his daughter holding a pair of bloodied scissors. Understandably losing the rag, he locks his daughter in the basement and goes upstairs, and that’s when things get weird. A bulb expands and explodes and a maggoty thing appears and splits his head open with an axe. When mother comes to investigate a mirror explodes in her face, performing the good old Italian eyeball trauma, and then she gets a knife through her neck for her trouble.

Fast forward to 1987, where CB enthusiast Paul is discussing Simon Le Bon and Kim Basinger over his radio. He catches a strange signal where a man is crying for help, followed by a weird tune and indecipherable vocals, and using his computer, somehow, he manages to track down the signal to a house in the country. Now brace yourself because this is a big surprise – it’s the house from the start of the film.

Grabbing his girlfriend Lara Wendel (who hilariously spends most of the film in a bad mood with him), Paul heads out to the house, where he finds CB operator Jim, his girlfriend, his brother and his Jim Carrey lookalike sister/pain in the arse Tina. Problem is, Jim acknowledges that the voice on the tape is his, but he’s only just set up his CB rig and hasn’t used it yet. That night, Jim is drawn to the basement, where a small girl and a creepy looking clown doll appear, and Jim finds himself uttering those words that Paul taped the day before…and ends up dead.

I like Ghousthouse for many reasons. First, there’s the cast, including Lara Wendel (Red Monks, Killing Birds), Donald O’Brien (Mannaja, Zombie Holocaust) and Bob Champagne (Witchery). Then there’s the fact that the film splits into two plot threads rather than have everyone just stuck in the house being chased by ghosts. That does happen to some of the characters for the remainder of the film, but two characters never actually return to the house, and instead try and investigate the origin of the haunting, pursued by O’Brien (who plays a deranged caretaker in slasher mode). Then there’s the sheer amount of haunted house action Lenzi pours into the film, from the usual taps pouring blood, appearing/disappearing ghosts, moving objects, disembodied laughter etc, to the more surreal basement full of quick lime and an appearance by the Grim Reaper.

Gore wise it’s pretty good. You’ve got the messy killings at the start, someone being stabbed with shears, a hammer killing, and a character being cut in two. There’s also the sub plot involving the homeless black thief guy that’s maybe not worth dwelling on too much. Ghosthouse is for me one of the finest of these cheapo horror films the Italians were churning out before the industry gave up, and further proof that Lenzi can be a good director if he wasn’t too obsessed with killing animals for jungle flicks. Check out his seventies gangster movies – they’re all gold.

I’ve seen posted on the ‘goofs’ section here that Lenzi made the mistake of putting Henrietta’s date of birth as “1938” on her tombstone, but it clearly says “1958” – give the guy some credit.