SLASHER MONTH: The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

Also known as Horror House and The Dark, this proto-slasher promised “Behind its forbidden doors an evil secret hides!”

Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, who also made Mark of the Devil and House of the Long Shadows, this takes the traditional night in a haunted house story and turns it on his head. Armstrong originally wrote this when he was just 15 years old before rewriting at the end of the 60’s, saying that he worked to “further developing its darker psycho-sexual themes and sharpening characters and dialogue to reflect the current cynical underbelly beneath the superficial Sixties culture.”

A mix of Tigon and American-International Pictures, the Western side wanted more sex, a role for Boris Karloff (whose bad health switched the role to Dennis Price) and a role for Frankie Avalon, which ruined the chance for Armstrong to cast David Bowie as Richard. The two had worked before on a short film called The Image.

American Chris (Avalon), his girl Sheila (Jill Haworth, Tower of Evil), Gary (British teen idol Mark Wynter), his girl Dorothy (Carol Dilworth, The Trygon Factor), the on-the-make Sylvia (Gina Warwick), Madge (Veronica Doran, Screamtime), Richard (Julian Barnes) and Henry (Robin Stewart) have all left a boring party for a night at a haunted house, trailed by Sylvia’s jealous — and married — ex-boyfriend Paul.

A seance upsets Sylvia, who hitchhikes home, at which point Gary is knifed by someone unseen. As the group all have criminal records, Chris tells them they need to keep this a secret from the police. And even worse, he believes that one of them is the killer.

Sam Arkoff and Jack Nicholson of AIP hated the original cut of the film and added — and subtracted — plenty. What ended up on the screen isn’t all that bad and feels like a rough draft of I Know What You Did Last Summer. And hey — I’m all for Frankie Avalon in slashers (see Blood Song).

You can watch this on YouTube.

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