Murder Mansion (1972)

MARCH 20, 2021


One valid criticism of the giallo sub-genre is that they tend to get a bit samey; the casual sex, the black gloves, the money schemes... if you take any half dozen at random you're likely to see the same plot points turn up in at least half of your picks. This is partly because they rarely cross with other genres, which can do wonders for what might actually be a fairly generic story; if I were to say "an unseen menace picks off a group of people one by one until there's only one female left" you might think I'm describing Friday the 13th but I'm actually thinking of Alien. So imagine my surprise when I picked a movie called Murder Mansion (Spanish: La mansiĆ³n de la niebla) from Vinegar Syndrome's latest Forgotten Gialli collection and discovered it was less giallo and more... Old Dark House movie?

Things start off pretty typical for such a "yellow" film; there's a guy on a motorcycle, another guy in a car, and a lovely hitchhiker that the latter picks up and instantly starts rubbing her thigh (with black gloves, of course). Then we meet a guy who tells his wife he's waiting for a notary but he's actually in bed with another woman (a prostitute, maybe? She mentions him spending "all his money on women like her"), so within ten minutes or so we have all the proper ingredients: sex, money, gloves, and motorcycles. But then the hitchhiker, tired of the driver's advances, hooks up with the motorcycle guy as they head toward a town nearby, and things get a little more supernaturally charged.

Turns out everyone is heading the same way (and some are even involved with the same people!), but a thick fog and confusing directions leaves everyone lost. After some atmospheric wandering around in the countryside, everyone ends up at the titular locale (well, it's not ACTUALLY named Murder Mansion, as they probably wouldn't have stopped, but you know what I mean) and it starts to resemble James Whale more than Sergio Martino. I figured someone would just start killing everyone in the joint and it'd be up to our heroes (motorcycle guy and hitchhiker, aka Fred and Laura) to figure it out, but nope! Before long they're full on walking around dusty/spider-webbed basement corridors, and a pair of ancient ghouls seemingly rise from the adjacent cemetery to scare some of them into sounding crazy.

Hell it's even quite possibly the most chaste 1970s eurohorror film I've ever seen, with very little sex and even less violence. It's not until the climax that the body count really rises, and (spoiler for 50 year old movie ahead) it's just mostly bloodless gunshots as opposed to the usual knives and razors. The killer's motive still circles back to familiar giallo themes (money and daddy issues, in this case), but it's kind of remarkable how un-giallo it all is, to the extent that the reveal was the first time in close to an hour I even remembered that this was presented as that kind of film in the first place. If this was somehow the first "giallo" you ever saw, you'd have the weirdest impression of what these movies were like.

That said, I found it delightful all the same. Again, since so many of them are kind of similar, it was great to just get caught up in the spooky shenanigans instead of thinking "They stole that bit from What Have You Done To Solange!" or something like that. There's a great sequence where the two heroes are being shot at in the graveyard, and they think it's the guy from the car (who shrugs off Fred "stealing" Laura from him and hits on someone else at the house, but surprisingly takes no for an answer pretty quickly), but then they discover that his body was just being propped up and he's been dead for a bit - it's the sort of thing that adds to the mystery but without the usual abundance of exposition that usually just ends up complicating these movies. That Fred and Laura are actually pretty likable people is another perk; it's rare to find much sympathy in these movies, as even the heroes tend to be misogynist jerks (you usually end up feeling more compassion for the killer who is often a victim of childhood trauma or something).

The lone extra on the disc (no historian commentary, alas) is an interview with Evelyn Stewart ne Ida Galli, who plays the lady of the house. Fitting for such a PG-ish kind of movie, it's one of the more upbeat actor interviews I've seen from something from this place and time; usually these interviews are hilariously candid about brutish directors, co-stars who couldn't ask, scripts being rubbish, etc, but Stewart is pretty complimentary about the whole affair. She even says something to the effect of "I don't have any bad memories of this one!", and the closest she gets to any kind of dirt is something about the soon-to-be ex-husband of one of her female costars, who she bonded with. It's kind of sweet, though fairly dull if you're used to the more unabashed "I'm retired now so IDGAF" nature of these pieces.

Despite its rather flimsy connection to the sub-genre, I'm super glad Vinegar included it on their set. You can't argue with its "forgotten" status (the IMDb page is pretty bare, and when you click on the title on Stewart's page, it brings you to the page for the '80s adventure game Maniac Mansion, which is another of its titles), and at the end of the day the main goal is preserving these movies and finding them the audience they deserve. Hopefully these volumes will continue; not only are they helping me expand my giallo horizons, but they're also given wonderful packaging that looks great on the shelf. Having survived the shoddy era of cheap cardboard boxes (remember that Omen set? Ugh!), I find myself in awe of how sturdy Vinegar's collections are. I'm all about that deluxe aesthetic!

What say you?


  1. This is also in 50 Chilling Classics and 50 Drive-In Movie Classics from Mill Creek, so chances are good that you owned this one already. (Don't you hate when that happens?)

    1. Haha, definitely not on my copy of Chilling Classics (the lineup changed a few times), and I never had Drive-In. That's funny though. Wonder what it was replacing on CC!

  2. I remember really digging the atmosphere of this one. I'm going to have to dig up my copy one of these days and give it another watch.


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