Ben and Marian (Oliver Reed & Karen Black) decide to spend the summer at a countryside mansion with their son and their aunt, played by Bette Davis. Soon strange things start to happen, and with each odd occurrence the mansion somehow rejuvenates itself. A deadly evil lurks within the walls, on the grounds and in their minds. And it’s coming from the attic…
It’s a creepy premise, sure, but watching Oliver Reed wobble those big lips of his to feign trembling is hardly spine-tingling. Is it overacting or just plain bad acting? Neither. The biggest downfall of this movie is that it clearly thinks it’s a lot scarier than it actually is. The grin of the man who haunts Reed’s character is so damn cheesy, he looks as if he’s about to sell you a Dime bar. The make-up job used to transform Karen Black’s character into an older woman is so poor that you’re hard pressed to believe that Reed wouldn’t presume she had gone mad and was playing dress-up. And if you’re going to just stand there as a huge chimney VERY…SLOWLY… crumbles down on top of you, nobody will fear for you. They’ll just think you’re a numb-wad.
Despite its amateur conception, Black’s final transformation put me in mind of Mary Shaw from James Wan’s Dead Silence (2007), which came as no surprise as the look of almost every movie villainess is, one way or the other, inspired by either Disney’s Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella (1950) or the Evil Queen/Old Hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
This movie sees the iconic Bette Davis still banging that horror drum after the genre revitalised her career over a decade earlier with the 1962 classic, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. And it’s always a joy to have Burgess Meredith on board. Still, it’s hard not to imagine him with his trademark monocle, cigarette holder and purple top-hat. As if his depiction of Arnold Allardyce is any less sinister!
Clearly the movie’s budget went to its excellent cast of actors because their make-up department is dog shit. It wants to be scary when it is only mildly chilly. It should’ve aged well but they are just as many cracks here as there are in the chimney that killed poor little Davey.