Terror House (1972)

Whatever you call it — Terror House, Terror at Red Wolf Inn or Folks at Red Wolf Inn — this 1972 horror comedy is one strange film. It makes a nice double or triple feature companion for a few other movies from the early 70’s like The Baby and Messiah of Evil. They’re horror, sure, but they also all feel like they’ve come from some other planet, somewhere beyond the walls of our normal plane of existence.

Regina (Linda Gillen) is a young college student with no money, friends or plans as the rest of her class leaves for spring break. That said — her luck is about to change, as she gets a letter informing her that she’s won a free vacation to the Red Wolf Inn.

She even has a plane ready for her and a handsome young man named Baby John Smith to pick her up when she arrives. Their ride to the inn is wild, as he races the police, but instead of reacting with fear, she enjoys the ride.

Once they arrive, Regina meets the owners of the inn, Henry (Arthur Space, who played veterinarian Doc Weaver on TV’s Lassie) and Evelyn (Mary Jackson, Sister Felice in Airport and Emily Baldwin on TV’s The Waltons), who are also Baby John’s grandparents. Plus, there are two other contest winners, Pamela (Janet Wood, Angels Hard as They Come) and Edwina (Margaret Avery, who years later woud be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as Shug Avery in The Color Purple; she’s also in the made for TV movie Something Evil that Steven Spielberg directed before Jaws).

That night, everyone sits down to an extravagant meal where they’re encouraged to indulge themselves. The next morning, Pamela has gone, but her dress has stayed behind.

Baby John and Regina’s feelings for one another are noticed by everyone in the house. This leads to my favorite scene in the movie, where they share a moment on the beach, flirting with one another before they embrace and kiss. Then, Baby John catches a small shark and loses his mind, smashing it over and over again before punching it, all the while screaming “Shark!” before confessing that he loves Regina. It’s incredibly disconcerting, like the way that beings from another dimension would act thinking that they were fitting in with humanity.

Before you know it, it’s time for another party, this time celebrating Edwina’s last night. After everyone goes to bed, the Smiths go to her room, knock her out with chloroform and then slices her to ribbons inside the refrigerated meat locker. After Regina worries that Edwina left without saying goodbye, she tries to run away, but even the police are members of the Smith family.

A prisoner inside the Red Wolf Inn, she soon discovers that she’s been eating human flesh the entire time there. She tries to run one more time, but is caught and finally admits that she’s in love with Baby John. Despite the fact that she believes that his grandparents want to kill and eat her, she thinks that they’ll come to accept her. There’s a test later that night where they try to get her to eat human flesh, now that she knows what she’s been devouring, but she runs away.

Baby John is smitten, but will he save the woman he’s fallen for? Will he eventually eat her too? Or is there an even stranger ending poised to blow your mind?

If you want to know every single thing there is to know about this film, I heartily recommend the zine Drive-in Asylum. In issue eight, there’s an interview with Linda Gillen that goes in-depth into every facet of the film and its production, as well as a great article by Terry Thome that dissects the film’s mixture of romance, horror and comedy. In fact, if you check out the Drive-In Asylum etsy store, you’ll find everything from signed VHS copies of the film, promotional photos and even a cookbook inspired by the film! I’m proud to say that I illustrated this unique souvenir of this film, which as a real honor (and I even have one signed by Linda).

BONUS: We spent two full episodes of our podcast discussing this movie with Bill from Drive-In Asylum, which will give you even more insight into the sheer craziness at the heart of this film.

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