Hollywood Horror House Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Written and directed by Donald Wolfe
1973, 91 minutes, Rated R
Released on March 31st, 2020
Miriam Hopkins as Katharine Packard
John David Garfield as Vic Valance
Gale Sondergaard as Leslie
Virginia Wing as Greta
Florence Lake as Mildred
Lester Mathews as Ira Jaffee
Katharine Packard was a movie star back in the 1930s, and now in her golden years she yearns for the old days. She is a recovering alcoholic who has the occasional slip, most recently one resulting in a fall down the stairs and a broken leg. Her assistant Leslie hires a new nurse named Victor Valance, whom she assumes was sent by the hospital. Vic pushes Katharine around the property in her wheelchair and begins taking over other responsibilities like bringing her meals and keeping her company. In return, Katharine opens her heart and her bank account to his needs and he is more than happy to comply. They begin a more intimate relationship against Leslie’s better judgment, as she knows he is already involved with Greta, the attractive young cook.
At the time of Vic’s arrival into Katharine’s circle, the city is in the grip of fear, as someone is butchering middle-aged women in the Hollywood hills. Vic certainly keeps a lot of secrets, could he also be a murderer? He continues to manipulate Katharine and when she begins to doubt his motivations, he takes her to a rowdy party and gets her drunk. Vic confines her to her bedroom and takes charge of the house, bossing around the staff and acting like a heel. Leslie begins to worry about Katharine’s safety, but cannot prove anything is actually wrong. Soon, Vic is spotted carrying a large trunk to the basement and he develops a love of gardening. Is he just an opportunistic playboy or is there something sinister going on?
Hollywood Horror House (aka Savage Intruder) is a trashy little gem that barely registered a blip on the radar of most genre fans before disappearing into cinematic obscurity. This campy proto-slasher is the sole effort from writer/director Donald Wolfe, who shot the picture off and on from late 1969 to mid-1973. The plot borrows elements from the likes of Sunset Blvd. (1950) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and places a serial killer at the heart of the proceedings. Wolfe attempts to conceal the killer’s identity during the opening murder, but introduces no other suspects after we meet Vic. He is secretive, manipulative, hangs out with hippies and takes advantage of old people, so he must also be a killer.
Miriam Hopkins (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1931) plays Katharine Packard, the aging star looking for a little excitement and attention. Hopkins was indeed a popular actress in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but no longer a household name. She is deeply invested in this role and gives it her all in a frequently over-the-top performance that is fun to watch. John David Garfield (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) co-stars as Victor Valance, the disturbed Casanova with mommy issues. He is a bit limited as an actor, but that may have more to do with the terrible script. His scenes torturing Hopkins are the best as he injects her with vodka and makes her sing old songs. A nice addition to the cast is Gale Sondergaard (The Black Cat, 1941) as Leslie, the most responsible character in the film. She carries a quiet authority and is the first to suspect Vic may be hiding something.
Hollywood Horror House is a bad movie without a doubt, but it has its moments. There are a couple of gory scenes, a flash of unexpected nudity and some colorful psychedelic flashbacks, plus a hilarious sequence where a drunken Katharine imagines herself being interviewed atop a float next to Santa Claus in a holiday parade. The film was shot over a four year period and Garfield’s hair frequently changes length throughout, but that just adds to the charm. It takes a while to get where it’s going but recovers in the third act once Vic’s deception reaches its peak and he starts wheeling around a dummy. Fans of “horror hag” flicks will get a kick out of this one and likely want to add it to their collection.
Video and Audio:
Vinegar Syndrome continues to impress with another stunning 4K scan and restoration of a little seen film from the 1970s. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this new transfer is full of detail and bright colors. The image is clean and free from dirt, scratches or other debris.
A lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track preserves the original mono recording and delivers a respectable listening experience. Music cues are full without stepping on dialogue levels and the scenes where many people are talking over each other are clear and understandable.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Filmmaker David DeCoteau (Creepozoids) joins the always enjoyable David Del Valle for a lively commentary track that is full of interesting trivia and several humorous anecdotes. Del Valle has encyclopedic knowledge of old Hollywood and provides a lot of colorful information on star Miriam Hopkins and her 1930s contemporaries and rivals. The discussion covers cast bios, familiar tropes, memorable dialogue and favorite scenes. These guys are big fans of campy movies and their enthusiasm is infectious.
A photo gallery slideshow (2 minutes) offers a collection of black-and-white promotional stills that play to music from the film.
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