Death at Love House (1976)

Why did I watch this movie?

Was it my love of TV movies? Sure.

The fact that Robert Wagner was in it? Yes.

My enduring crush for Kate Jackson, whose looks, voices and demeanor made pre-pubescent me question why every other boy thought girls were gross? Of course.

The simple knowledge that I’ll watch just about anything, no matter how bad it may be? Undoubtedly.

Because John Carradine was in it? Come on. John Carradine is in everything.

Or that it was directed by E. W. Swackhamer, who made the insane Lookwell with Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel, as well as the TV movie Vampire?

Come on. Just reading the synopsis and learning that Marianna Hill plays a famous sex symbol actress murdered in the 1930’s? That’s exactly why, dear reader.

Joel and Donna Gregory (Wagner and Jackson) are investigating the death of Lorna Love (Hill). This leads them to her house, where they meet with housekeeper Clara Josephs (Sylvia Sidney, the caseworker from Beetlejuice) and agent Oscar Payne (Bill Macy, who isn’t William H. Macy, but the husband of Maude).

Joel wants to know more because it turns out that his father was one of Lorna’s many lovers. So they decide to stay at Love House, where John Carradine shows up as a director who Lorna ruined. He claims that Joel’s dad was the only man to escape her before a mysterious creature attacks him, he has a heart attack and is then drowned in the garden’s fountain. If you can say anything about this movie, you should say that it’s pretty through with the brutal efficiency that it wipes out the seventy-year-old star of pretty much every horror movie made.

It’s at this point that any normal person would leave. Donna then finds an occult blade and one of her photos ruined, but she still stays. At this point, obviously she and Joel are in it to win it.

Joel and Donna then visit Denise Christian (Dorothy Lamour, who owned Old Chief Woodenhead in Creepshow 2 and played herself in The Phynx), a former rival of Lorna who — surprise! — also used to have a bit of “how’s your father” with Joel’s father. Is this whole movie about Robert Wagner’s dad engaging in adult congress with hot actresses? Yes, pretty much.

But really, this is where we learn the secret of Lorna: she asked for eternal beauty and youth. She got it and never slept again, so Joel Sr. smashed all the windows of her house — why? — and left. Afterward, she was obsessed with a healer named Father Eternal Fire.

Of course, being the son of his philandering papa, Joel starts fantasizing about Lorna. At the same time, someone tries to kill Donna by carbon monoxide poisoning. She survives and finally wants to leave, but Joel begs her to stay so they can figure out the secret.

That’s when they meet another follower of Father Eternal Fire, Marcella Geffenhart (Joan Blondell, who is also in The Phynx and, like everyone else in Hollywood pre-1950, Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood). She claims to be Lorna’s best friend and when Donna wants to know more, Joel goes AWOL and starts yelling about how Lorna deserves her secrets. So why are you writing a book about her?

I’m not going to spoil the rest, but it’s as ridiculous as you’d hope.

This ABC Movie of the Week originally aired on September 3, 1976. It was produced by Aaron Spelling, as were the occult-themed films How Awful About AllanThe House That Would Not DieCrowhaven FarmA Taste of EvilHome for the HolidaysSatan’s School for Girls (which also stars Jackson), Cruise Into Terror and Don’t Go to Sleep.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or YouTube:

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