...aka: Massacre Mansion
As far as early '80s haunted house movies go (there were quite a few, most likely thanks to the box office success of 1979's THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), you could do worse. Neurotic mystery novelist Lauren Cochran (Robin Groves) is suffering from the anxiety disorder agoraphobia; meaning she has panic attacks when put in a crowded or unfamiliar environment. Barely able to leave her New York City apartment, she and her doctor decide the best thing for her mental state is a little peace and quiet in a tranquil setting. Lauren, accompanied by her boyfriend Mark (Christopher Loomis), decides to rent a large house out in the country so she can recover from her condition and begin work on her next novel. Strangely, the large, lakeside home she is compelled to rent looks almost identical to the one pictured on the cover of her last novel "The Nesting;" which was illustrated from her own description. Soon after moving in (Mark has to return to NYC, leaving her all alone), she starts suffering from nightmares and starts seeing ghosts lurking around. What's Lauren's connection to the house and why are the murderous spirits that occupy the place only killing select victims?
I noticed skimming through other reviews that some viewers think the first half was stronger than the second. I actually feel the opposite. The first 45 minutes or so were a little shaky and confusing, but I felt the film actually improved and became more interesting during the second and third acts. Thankfully the major plot points are adequately explained with some decent flashbacks. The leading lady is a pretty good actress, but not quite the sympathetic heroine you'd expect to find in a film like this. The architecture on the house itself is very striking and it makes for a terrific, atmospheric country setting. The horror scenes are adequate, yet not very bloody, and there's some brief nudity and sex also. On the down side, some of the dialogue is awful (especially the supposedly witty lines given to the Mark character at the beginning), the film looks pretty dark, dreary and murky (many scenes are set inside barely lit interiors), there's a visible boom mike and some of the supporting performances are rough.
One of the major drawing cards (at least to me) were appearances from prolific character actor/horror cameo king John Carradine and talented and underrated film noir goddess Gloria Grahame, both in small but important co-starring roles. Carradine plays Colonel LeBrun, the wheelchair-bound, sickly owner of the haunted home, while Grahame (who looks astonishingly good for her age and astonishingly good considering she died soon after appearing in this) plays Florinda Costello, the ghostly former brothel madam. Neither has a whole lot of screen time, but do well with what they're given to work with. Fans of either should enjoy their work here. I'd never heard of director Armand Weston before, but it seems like he worked exclusively on X-rated films. He did a fairly good job on this, his only "mainstream" effort.