JANUARY 26, 2012
Thanks to my endless supply of “being nice”, my IMDb page boasts like 10 credits, almost all of which are in different areas. “Producing” an EPK, editing a documentary, doing some titles, even a few acting gigs. With one exception, I wasn’t paid for any of them, which is part of why you don’t see more than 2 credits in any area: I get sick of doing something for free, but will offer my services in a different area just for the experience. Anyway, Ron Honthaner, director of The House On Skull Mountain, has a similar page - couple acting credits, some sound editing, regular editing, production manager/producer on Gunsmoke (which seems to be his claim to fame), etc. So it’s no surprise that this is his sole directing credit – dude seemingly couldn’t pick an area to excel and just kept bouncing around the industry doing whatever the hell he could, I guess. His final credit was an editor on some action flick from the late 80s – not sure if he died or just finally gave up.
But based on Skull Mountain, I don’t think there was any tremendous loss to the horror genre that he never directed another film (though he fared better than screenwriter Mildred Pares, who has not one other credit to her name in any field). The film is dull, and padded with nonsense like two characters who just met going off into the city to look at antique clocks (set to a weepy ballad no less) – but I could forgive that if any of it was the least bit suspenseful. It’s basically one of those 30s/40s horror style movies where a bunch of distant relatives join up at a big ol’ house to hear about their inheritance, and then they start getting knocked off (or just out) one by one by someone who clearly is after a bigger share. Unfortunately, Pares and Honthaner didn’t really bother to take into consideration that those movies were of a different era and many were made under the Hayes Code, which is why they are mostly so damn boring. Thus, their 1974 version is just as weak, but nowhere near as forgivable.
To be fair they do add some new elements; mainly, the fact that this is a lite Blaxploitation effort, and also has heavy voodoo elements. And while that does add some novelty (as does the Georgia setting, though the opening driving scene was clearly Los Angeles), it doesn’t really matter much in the end. Our lone white character is also the hero, vastly reducing its merit in the sub-genre when compared to say, Sugar Hill (another voodoo movie of infinitely more entertainment value), and the voodoo element is comprised mainly of scenes of our villain chanting in odd closeup angles while stabbing voodoo dolls or lighting sticks on fire.
At least, until the final 20 minutes. Our hero suddenly discovers a hidden passageway that leads to a full cult of worshipers, dancing around and sacrificing a woman tied to a pole and all that good stuff. Then we get a blandly choreographed machete fight, which leads to more voodoo (including a minor zombie scene) before our villain gets pushed out of a window. That’s it. There are only two other kills in the movie, neither of them particularly interesting, though one was a minor surprise since the character (The Jeffersons’ Mike Evans) seemed to be set up as more of a hero or at least someone who’d stick around for a while (sort of the Luke/Russ Tamblyn character in the quartet). The other just gets bit by a snake, which is, as you may have guessed, not nearly exciting or even scary enough to justify the lack of anything happening in the rest of the movie. The damn antiquing scene gets more screen time than the horror stuff!
It’s also depressingly simple. We know who our villain is after about 20 minutes, so there’s no element of surprise like in those other movies. At first I figured maybe the guy doing the voodoo was actually trying to PROTECT our heroes from an unseen/unidentified third party, which would have made for a fun little twist, but no, it’s made abundantly clear that he’s the one behind it all. So it’s one of those movies where you spend the entire movie waiting for the other characters to catch up to you, on top of its other faults.
Honthaner also apparently thinks we’re stupid. There’s a cool little bit where he tries to make a skull face out of a mirror, some bottles, and the person’s head (and her angled reflection), which might have been a fun little Easter Egg for those who noticed it – it’s not like it has any bearing on anything, and had he framed it slightly better or just let the shot linger on for a few seconds more I’m sure folks would have seen the illusion. But pretty much as soon as the elements are lined up (it springs from a zoom out shot), he super-imposes an actual skull face over it, before even the most analytical mind could have possibly noticed the gag.
I was talking to my buddy Sam Zimmerman from "Fangoria" right after I watched, because he was interested in seeing it (I think I talked him out of it). He himself had just watched Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, a better movie to be sure but also one where the concept sounded a lot more interesting than the movie itself ended up being. We then discussed how THESE are the films that should be getting remade, not the movies that were perfectly good the first time around. Both have great titles (even if Skull’s is a bit "Three Investigators"-ish), and that seems to be the only thing any of these modern remake goons seem to care about (which is why the Prom Night remake has zero to do with the original’s story/characters in even a passing sense). And they could be fixed cheaply; they didn’t fail because of terrible special FX or fake looking sets or whatever – they just needed better scripts. Plenty of hungry writers around town – let’s do this!
Or just try to come up with new ideas. Either or.
What say you?