The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)/Ghost Warrior (1984)

JANUARY 16, 2023


One of the oldest “residents” of my dreaded (but now smaller!) pile is a double feature of The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior, a pair of genre films from the early 80s that attempted to bridge Japanese and American audiences now that we were all friends again. In fact, it’s been sitting there so long (I wasn’t even living in the same house at the time!) that the disc is now out of print, so maybe I shouldn’t have opened it and just sold it on eBay for a few bucks. I really should start just sorting them chronologically to avoid such dilemmas.

But alas, I am still cursed with having to know if a movie is any good before I part with it, and if I sold this unseen then I’d be missing out on the insanity of Dwells’ third act! A chunk of film so insane it almost makes up for how slow the previous hour was. After a lengthy 19th century prologue in which a Samurai returns home and finds his wife in bed with his buddy, prompting him to kill them both and then himself, not much happens for a while. We flash to the modern day where an American family has just moved into the house so the husband (Eddie Albert) can start over his writing career in Japan, and his wife (Susan George) and daughter can… I dunno, buy Noh masks, I guess.

Anyway, the ghosts of the trio from the prologue are there, and despite the husband’s clear hatred of the other two, now they all kind of work together, doing basic haunted house stuff like tossing dishes around and making faucets turn on. But they also influence the wife to start banging the husband’s best bud (Doug McClure!) who found them the house in the first place, so you can probably guess why our ghosts have put aside their differences: they want to recreate the circumstances of their own deaths so their spirits can be freed. Not sure how that works (or how they even figured it out) but after all the tedium in the middle – occasionally peppered with some sex (weirdly, despite the affair element, the wife seems to go at it with more gusto with her husband than the other guy? You’re affairing wrong, lady!) things finally pick up in the end.

First, the daughter is attacked by a giant talking crab (!), which she escapes by jumping out the window. This puts her in the hospital and then sent back to America while the parents, now clued into the history of the house, get things packed up to go back as well. But then the ghosts put their big plan into motion, possessing all three of them and giving us the delightful sight of Albert and McClure having a full on kung fu battle. Eventually weapons get thrown into the mix, and… well, the ghosts get what they want! And I sat wondering who was gonna take care of the daughter, since the movie doesn’t have an answer for that.

It's the kind of movie I would have loved to have seen at one of those all night horror marathons when we don’t know what is going to play. By the 3rd movie (at best) I’m starting to get tired and frequently doze off (I am relieved when a movie I’ve seen before ends up playing, as then I can just let myself sleep guilt-free), so this one would have knocked me out pretty quick and then the rapturous response to the crab scene would have woken me back up. So I would have missed the dull middle and assumed that the movie as a whole was pretty action packed/crazy. It wasn’t BAD, per se, just, you know, kind of a “filler” movie, not helped by my usual indifference to haunted house motifs. And it’s nothing I could see myself watching again, because… well, I’m sorry, but how can I be entertained by a mask falling off the wall when I know they could have been giving us more talking giant crab scenes?

The other movie, Ghost Warrior (aka Swordkill) wasn’t even really horror, but instead more of an action/thriller with some occasional gore. It’s the story of a Samurai named Yoshi who falls into the water after losing a battle after failing to protect his wife. The body is frozen and uncovered 400 years later, and when thawed he actually comes back to life. So it’s a fish out of water kind of thing (one highlight: learning what TV is via a W.A.S.P. video) as the scientists who found him (an asshole guy and a kindly woman) try to communicate with him. But after an orderly tries to steal his swords, he kills the guy and escapes, wandering around LA and getting into mischief like killing a few gangbangers who were trying to rob an elderly man.

This could all be fine, but the constant cutting away to the scientist people drains the movie of most of its energy, as their goals are not particularly interesting nor are they even that villainous (basically they just want to kill him because he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, which I can’t really argue with!). And Yoshi never makes much of an effort to communicate or anything, so the fish out of water stuff grows tired and is awkwardly spaced out to boot (with like 20 minutes left in the movie, he learns what a lamp is). The occasional fights are fine, but there’s just no real drive to the narrative, and it’s not helped by the interminable final chase, where the nice scientist helps him evade her jerk coworkers through a forest, with about 9 million cutaways to one of the searching helicopters, presumably because Charles Band wanted to get his money’s worth from the rental.

So, yeah, you aren’t missing much from the films’ current inavailabilty. The action/light horror blend of Ghost Warrior is much better realized in Ninja III, and House’s crazy moments aren’t enough to elevate it above “OK timekiller” status. No features beyond the trailer are on the disc either, so I’m guessing the films were part of a package Scream picked up around that time, or just happened to be a personal guilty pleasure of someone who works there (like how I’d put out The Hitcher remake if I worked for them and had that power). I took a quick glance at eBay and found that the OOP discs are selling below retail price, so I’m guessing there isn’t much of a demand for it either. A curious release that waited seven years for me to finally pick it out of the stack, and will now be traded in for 19 cents off a record I’ll probably only listen to once – the disc has just as sad a fate as the characters featured on it.

What say you?

P.S. For anyone who could possibly care – yes this is a “From the Pile” disc but since it’s so long I made it a regular entry. FTP reviews are supposed to be pretty short, and in my wildest (very boring) dreams I like to assume you fine folk see the "FTP" moniker and know it won't take as much time out of their day to check out.


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