Reviews

Hollywood Horror House (1970)

The opening ten minutes of this film features a blood-splashed toilet, a kid inexplicably vomiting next to a tour bus, and a grande metaphor for showbiz deterioration. Usually, such artful insight leads to a sure thing.

Usually.

At 33 minutes, Hollywood Horror House introduced a montage/vignette scene. It was not the first. It would not be the last. But, it was with this segment, in which we bear witness to a senior citizen dinner party, that I gave up. And accepted. Hollywood Horror House would not make my day. That’s not to say that the psychological trip-outs, vintage housepaint gore, and the sight of an old lady falling down the stairs were not appreciated. They very much were. But my god — somebody please do something.

High in the Hollywood hills, drunken old-fangled movie star Katharine Parker (played by real-life old-fangled movie star Miriam Hopkins) has delusions about her glory days. That’s how she falls down the stairs. Now confined to a wheelchair, Katherine places trust in her caregivers. Trust in hand, they proceed to hire a male nurse who moonlights as a heroin junkie. And a machete-wielding psychopath. I didn’t catch his name, but he first introduces himself as “Laurelyn Hardy” and communicates with “classic” Hollywood impressions. I wanted those things to be wonderful, but regrettably, they were not. From there, droning conversations are occasionally punctuated with visual pomp (artsy violence, artsy flashbacks, geriatric boobs). 60 minutes later, everyone is dead. There’s some great mannequin monkey business. Then, a final attempt at Golden Years poignancy is presented. Will the real Laurelyn Hardy please stand up?

Hollywood Horror House drags itself in all kinds of directions, but lacks the confidence to choose one and just go with it. Smart, exploitive take on Sunset Boulevard or trash-horror jamboree? Immersive technical elegance or off-the-cuff recklessness? It’s this constant see-saw (and subsequent refusal to commit) that leaves us with a series of sketches, rather than an actual film. As with any episodic undertaking, the good stuff is there by default. At times, the film even trades in its most prevalent aim — flamboyant exploitation — for moments of frank pathos. Katherine’s dreamy, drunken breakdown during a real-life LA Christmas parade is a nice example. But even so, these moments are smothered by vast amounts of emptiness. Old folks talking. A lame hippy party with a midget. Bookkeeper shop-talk. If nothing else, the film does a decent job of showing us what it might feel like to grow very old — the unbalance, the boredom, the very occasional spike in excitement. Then I remembered Death Nurse.

Hollywood Horror House had everything in place to be either: 1. A mindless junk-parade, or 2. An affecting bit of smart exploitation. By constantly treading between the two but never fully committing to one, the film cancels itself out, feeling more like a compilation project rather than a finished statement. You can hang out here if you’d like, but things are much more righteous over at Hollywood High. Trust me.

From the Archives