House of Death (aka Death Screams)

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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House of Death  (1982, aka Death Screams, dir: David Nelson; writer: Paul C. Elliott; cast: Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Sharon Alley)






It's the early 1980s, and a slasher is stalking teenagers in North Carolina. Yeah, not too original. Even so, House of Death (aka Death Screams is a fairly entertaining film -- but only if you're a forgiving slasher completist. (That would include me.) Not an especially great slasher film, but it's okay.

House of Death has its flaws. It's fairly inept, low on suspense, and not too bloody. The film opens with the quick murder of two teens making out -- then nothing much happens for over an hour! A young girl is suffocated, but that's about it.

The whole first hour is just character exposition and plot set up. Teenagers hang out, go to a county fair, smoke pot (some comic relief as a sheriff nearly catches them), and make plans for a summer night camp out.

They also invite their coach to their camp out. He's popular with the teens. There's even this big, goofy retarded boy who's unintentionally hilarious when he says, "It's bad to hurt coach."

Maybe we're supposed to think the retarded kid might be the killer? No, I'm not giving anything away. The slasher's identity surprised me. The choice seemed arbitrary. Really, it could as easily have been anyone.

So anyway, these kids camp out. Have sex. Drink. Tell ghost stories. Then the killings start. Only by now, there's only 20 minutes left in the film, with very few deaths so far. So the slasher kills quickly, to rack up a large body count, as there's so little time left.

Then the slasher's identity is revealed, with a sudden flashback (right out of the blue) to "explain" why this person felt compelled to kill.

House of Death was shot by E.O. Productions, which was Earl Owensby's low-budget North Carolina film company at the time. They also made A Day of Judgment.



House of Death is an inept attempt to cash in on the slasher cycle, made just about when it was beginning to peter out. Still, I like this film. The women are pretty (lead actress Susan Kiger was a Playboy model). There's some nice wide-angle photography. The "acting" by the no-name cast is mediocre, but it suffices.

Slasher fans who don't mind a film that waits till the end for the body count to start rising should like this film.



House of Death is hard to find on DVD. The best DVD release appears to be from EastWest Entertainment, under the title Death Screams. I have House of Death on both Beta and VHS. Sadly, this DVD version is of a poorer visual quality than my tape copies. It actually looks like a transfer from tape. A badly washed-out tape. My Beta tape, especially, has richer, deeper colors.

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