"Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult". That was the religious disclaimer that sombrely lingered on the screen before Michael Jacksonís ĎThrillerí music video. But itís another African American with a love for horror movies that uses the exact refutation at the onset of his directorial debut. Sean Weathers was once allegedly referred to by a certain Quinten Tarantino as "the king of guerrilla film making". His first full feature, House of the Damned, was made back in 1996, and to mark its 15th anniversary, it surfaces on DVD through Seanís own production company Full Circle Film Works.
The movie, shot entirely in black and white, starts with a frenzied hammer attack. The unfortunate victim is the father of the central character, the 20 year old Liz (Valerie Alexander). She is clearly struggling to come to terms with her fatherís untimely and shocking death until her rather young looking mother, Emily (Monica Williams), gives her a parental kick up the proverbial booty. With Lizís 21st birthday celebrations about to begin, the young lady is seemingly ready to move on until her grandfather drops a bombshell. He claims he is not really her grandpappy... he is in actual fact her brother!!! Confused? Well itís very simple really. You see, her mum is actually an African queen over two hundred years old who dabbled in the black arts in order to retain her youthful beauty. All she has to do is kill Liz on the stroke of midnight of her 21st birthday and hey presto - Emily will retain her agelessness for another 21 years. With the family home riddled with evil spirits picking off Lizís friends one by one, it seems the malevolent queen is set for another reign of terror. But there is a secret hidden within the damned houseís basement that will reverse the spell. Will Liz prevail, or will the House of the Damned serve its evil owner yet again...?
So here we have it, a movie that claims to be the first example of a zombie picture with an all-black cast. Why someone would want to take on such an undertaking is up for debate. Letís face it; if you are aggrieved about the notion of Ďthe black guy always dies first in horror moviesí it is hardly going to change with an all-black cast is it? But politics aside, Weathers has made a highly entertaining picture with an obviously miniscule budget.
The project started off as an idea for a short film when Weathers sent his modest script to producer, Aswad Issa. But as the enthusiasm for the project developed, so did the script which eventually grew to around 70 pages. Being an inaugural venture for both parties, there was, by their own admission, a lot of experimental camerawork. I loved this aspect of the picture as some inventive camera angles afforded the movies otherwise mundane scenes an intriguing appearance. Complementing the cinematography is some delightful Ďstop motioní work which, given the subject matter, actually fits quite nicely. With a run time of just over an hour, itís not a boring movie to watch, thatís for sure!
The violence is effectively vicious without being overtly gory. The main reason for this I felt was the aural effects that accompanied the brutality. Credited for the sound of the movie is a gentleman calling himself Glenn ĎIllaí Skeete. (Personally I think only darts players should have a moniker in quotes dividing their names but what do I know?) Skeete does an excellent job in this department it has to be said. The Ďstabsí excruciatingly sound like wet, meaty Ďstabsí. The hammers bludgeoning skulls have those dull, crunching thuds that serve to supersede any visual inadequacies.
The characters themselves were pretty diverse, ranging from the moronic wannabe gangster to the utterly dorkish, with a lesbian thrown in for good measure! As such, some highly entertaining dialogue ensued. For example, I loved the way female breasts were lovingly referred to as "gazungas". And with an all-black cast in the mid-nineties, there was always going to be a little example of that tremendously versatile art form called rap - Check this out:
"Tick tick tock, itís almost 12 oíclock, we out to kill the bitch, donít even think about the cops". (Donít worry; he gets stabbed in the eye with a pen shortly after!)
The music score, also written by Weathers, does get a little irritating after its umpteenth outing (think Channels 4ís Countdown jingle on speed) but actually does fit this great little romp rather well. With a classic catfight in a cellar and foaming mouths a plenty in the climax, there is much to enjoy in a movie that is campier then a sea of tents at a music festival!
There are some great extras included on the disc, most interesting of which is a 17 minute interview with Valerie Alexander, who plays the main protagonist, Liz. Filmed 15 years after she actually shot the movie, Valerie appears to have a genuine affection for the horror genre in general as well as recalling some of the gruelling conditions she had to endure in order to complete the project.
House of the Damned is one of the most entertaining Ďno budgetí horror efforts I have seen recently. What has Mr Weathers been doing since 1996 you ask? That question is partially answered with my LUST FOR VENGENCE review...
Review by Marc Lissenburg
|Released by SEAN WEATHERS|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|