Friday, August 10, 2012

Hollywood Horror House (1970) [filmed in 1968]

... aka: Comeback, The
... aka: Savage Intruder

Directed by:
Donald Wolfe

Here's a deliriously entertaining mixture of Sunset Boulevard and Herschell Gordon Lewis not to be missed. Writer / producer / director Donald Wolfe managed to unearth former Hollywood A-lister Miriam Hopkins (who was great in the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among other things) for this tasteless hack-em-up featuring blood-spattered mannequin body parts, trip out drug sequences, demented flashbacks and a cast full of Tinseltown has-beens. Starting with a flurry of swirling photographs, red carpet events and movie scenes from 1930s Hollywood, this then settles onto the famous Hollywood sign, which was in such bad shape when this was filmed that pieces are just falling off of it. And that's not all that's in a state of disrepair. The body of an old lady, or what's left of her at least, rests at the bottom. She's not the first victim of a psycho killer. Several other middle-aged women have also been chopped to bits, and their body parts were also scattered in the Hollywood Hills. A drunken lady is soon to become the next victim as she leaves a bar and is followed home to her apartment by someone tall, dark and clad in a fedora, sunglasses and bell bottoms. He carries with him a do-it-yourself dismemberment kit consisting of a huge cleaver, hacksaw, scalpel, forceps, syringe and other such goodies. After getting clubbed over the head with a metal pipe, the woman awakens just as the nut starts to saw off her hand with an electric carving knife. Her screams are quickly silenced with a cleaver to the head.

A Movieland Tours bus being driven by Joe Besser (from The Three Stooges) stops by the home of Katharine Packard (Hopkins), a retired former movie star who now - according to the guide - spends all of her time doing charity work. And that's not all she does. She also likes to drink. A lot. In fact, the booze makes her so delusional she dresses in a ball gown and envisions people giving a party in her honor when no one is actually there. One her way to greet her adoring "fans," she falls down the stairs and breaks her foot and tailbone. Now she'll be confined to a wheelchair for awhile. Thankfully, she still has a few people around to help her out, including her long-time friend Ira (Lester Matthews), her bitter, elderly maid Mildred (Florence Lake), her pretty Asian cook Greta (Virginia Wing) and her personal secretary Leslie. Leslie is played by Gale Sondergaard, a wonderful actress who almost snagged the Wicked Witch role in The Wizard of Oz (1939) but was ultimately deemed too beautiful for the part. Aside from winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Anthony Adverse, she also made her presence known in the genre with roles in The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Black Cat (1941) and others; perhaps being best known for playing a sultry villainess in both the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Spider Woman (1944) and the unrelated spin-off The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946). Sadly, Sondergaard became one of the victims of Hollywood blacklisting in the late 40s just at the height of her career. I guess when she returned to Hollywood, this was the best she was offered.

A hippie named Vic Vallance (John David Garfield) shows up at the home to interview for a job catering to Katharine, who needs to be pushed around in her chair. Leslie insists he get a haircut and new wardrobe first, and she forbids booze on the premises because of Katherine's alcoholism, but he ends up getting the position. Mildred isn't too happy about it. She detests most young people and refers to them as "callow and disgusting" and "self-centered animals." When Katharine first meets Vic in his new all-white uniform, she thinks he's the ice cream man. When he jokingly asks her what flavor she wants, she screams "Vodka!" Some time passes and Katharine and Vic start growing fond of one another, but then it's revealed that Vic is in possession of the same kit used in the murders. Yep, he's the killer and he has a bad habit of eventually turning violent on his older lovers or anyone else who threatens to expose him. Vic is not only a serial killer but he's also a drug addict and an arrogant, sociopathic social climber who will do whatever it takes to get money. He shoots himself up with hallucinogenic drugs and takes acid, which make him flip out over his traumatic childhood. His mother was a drunken whore who gave him up for adoption to run off with her pimp. Vic envisions himself as a child running down a corridor with colorful checkerboard patterns, stumbling upon an orgy and then hacking someone's hand off.

Vic starts sleeping with both Greta and Katharine. When Greta announces she's pregnant and threatens to tell Katharine what's been going on, she's promptly decapitated and her body is buried in the garden. Meanwhile, Katharine is basking in the glory of getting her knickers dusted by her new boy toy. Feeling rejuvenated, she wants to try to mount a comeback. Vic helps himself to her credit cards and tries to get his new sugar mama back to boozing again by taking her to a hippie party where a dwarf offers her coke, speed and acid. Now back to drinking, Katharine humiliates herself to the press at the Hollywood Christmas parade by riding in the Santa Claus float shitfaced. Having now had enough and, with help from Leslie coming to realization she's just being used, Katharine tells Vic to hit the road. But he's not having it and a violent backlash ensues. The concluding scenes are surprisingly grim and things don't end as one might expect them to.

Filmed at the Norma Talmadge Estate in Hollywood, this ended up being the last hurrah for Hopkins, who passed away in 1972 of a heart attack. Thankfully, she makes an impression in an immensely fun performance that almost makes Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET look restrained by comparison! Hopkins gets to act wasted, cry, scream, sing, freak out and cackle manically about being "The Queeeeen of the Christmas Paraaaaade!" There are outrageous and hilarious scenes of her in a frilly pink nightgown shrieking, getting punched directly in the face, being forced to toast to "lonely, rich old bags" and having vodka injected directly into her bloodstream with a syringe! And if that isn't enough, the 65-year-old actress manages to even upstage Crawford in her ringmaster's outfit in BERSERK! (1967) by briefly flashing her breasts when her new man is giving her a back massage! Way to go out with a bang, Miriam. Sondergaard has a much less-flashy role but does very well with what she's given and has a lot of screen time here. Lake also does fine work in her smaller role.

Pretty fascinating stuff and a ton of fun for camp addicts, this should really be better known than it is. It was filmed as The Comeback, released theatrically two years later as Savage Intruder and then was issued on VHS by Unicorn as Hollywood Horror House. There is no legit DVD release.

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