[Please feel free to skip this paragraph if you've already read it, as I've copied and pasted this little explanation before every episode in the Hammer House of Horror series.] *Even though I usually don't cover TV shows here, I've decided to include all thirteen episodes from the short-lived British TV series "Hammer House of Horror" on this blog. There are two reasons for this: 1.) Each of the thirteen episodes runs 52 minutes and is in essence a feature (short films technically clock in at less than 45 minutes). 2.) More importantly, in the mid-1980s all but one of the episodes was released in the United States separately as a feature on VHS by the ThrillerVideo label, which were further padded with commentary from horror hostess Elvira. Since these were very well distributed titles, and in keeping with the video-store feel of the blog, I felt it important to keep these in the database and review them all individually. The one and only episode that was not released by ThrillerVideo was "The Mark of Satan," which I'll review here eventually anyway just for competition's sake. The entire series is now available on DVD through A&E." So moving right along...
Interrupted while in the middle of feeling up his bimbo secretary, real estate agent Norman Shenley (Denholm Elliott) has a new customer. Mr. Rayburn (James Laurenson) wants to unload a piece of property known as Lower Moat Manner as quickly as possible. The property's former owner didn't quite die, she just disappeared and has been missing so long she's been legally pronounced dead. As chief executor of the woman's will, Mr. Rayburn is in change of selling it. He leaves a paper with directions on how to get to the estate, but strangely enough hasn't left an address or phone number where he can be reached. Norman heads out to the secluded country mansion and soon after entering the doors, an electronic voice coming through the intercom device threatens "You shouldn't have done it. You shouldn't have killed your wife." Suddenly, two suits of armor come to life and his wife's body drops from a dumbwaiter. Turns out that was just a nightmare. Norman awakens in a cold sweat with his shrewish wife Emily (Pat Heywood) nagging him. She tells him she suspects he wants to kill her and insinuates that she knows about the affair he's having with his secretary.
Norman goes to work, where his secretary Lolly (Lucy Gutteridge) has transformed from blonde bimbo to punk smart ass; her first of many identity transformations throughout. He tells her about his awful dream, but begins to wonder if it really was a dream when he pulls directions to the manor out of his pocket. She suggests he go, but when he returns to the spot there is no manor, just a telephone box by an empty field. He goes in to call his secretary and finds the directions have changed into a threatening note, the phone box won't open and it starts filling with smoke. Lolly shows up in a beret and speaking with a French accent and the two start making love. Just another nightmare. Norman tells his wife he wants a divorce, but she refuses and the nightmares continue. In one, he and Lolly are trapped inside a condemned building while it's being demolished. In another, he goes to visit the manor house and converses with the home's owner, who turns out to be a ghost who hangs him with help from his staff.
The cast is very good but they're let down somewhat by weak writing. The film constantly mixes up nightmares and reality (in one instance having a dream-inside-of-a-dream-inside-of-a-dream), and tries to disorient and confuse the viewer in the same fashion the central character is confused and disoriented, but it's all really for naught since the ending is completely predictable right out of the gate. Still, there's some good black comedy in here and enough amusing moments to justify seeing it.