Sunday, February 21, 2016

Open House (1987)

... aka: Open House - Trautes Heim kann tödlich sein (Open House – Home Sweet Home Can Be Deadly)
... aka: Pánico en Beverly Hills (Panic in Beverly Hills)

Directed by:
Jag Mundhra

In my own personalized version of hell, HGTV would be a top contender for what would be playing on a continuous loop to torture me for the rest of eternity. I hate that channel. I mean really, really, really hate it. A lot of my friends watch it and know better to subject me to it whenever I visit. “If you insist on making me watch House Hunters, you have to watch Cannibal Sorority Psycho Vixen Slaughter 5 with me later on!,” I say. The channel usually changes shortly thereafter. It's not that I have any issue with home improvements, interior decorating or anything of the sort outside of sheer indifference, but I can't stomach their shows that center around purchasing property and homes. Seeing vacuous and completely self-absorbed well-off people bitching, whining and crying because a potential purchase doesn't have marble counter tops, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, his-and-her sinks or whatever else someone has told them is “in” these days literally makes me want to puke. I just want to grab those people, shake them and scream about the billions of people out there who don't have a roof over their head or anything to eat and tell them settling for a 2 ½ car garage instead of the desired 3 isn't going to be the end of the world.

One time when I was subjected to one of HGTV's shows, I made it through by envisioning how much more entertaining it would be if horrific things happened to the realtors and their clientele. You know, like someone letting a bag of rattlesnakes loose inside the home... or some giddy woman excitedly swinging open the doors of a walk-in closet only to find a mangled corpse inside... or an extremely nostalgic psycho breaking in and using things like shards of wood paneling and shag carpet to murder snobby home buyers in an undignified, uncool way (“Please! Anything but linoleum tiles!”). Someone needs to make that movie already. Until then, I guess we will just have to settle for...

Lisa Grant (Adrienne Barbeau) owns and operates the thriving Grant Realty in Beverly Hills. Her rival, Barney Resnick (Barry Hope) of Proud Reality, is an obnoxious, sexist, slovenly creep who keeps a picture of Lisa on a dart board in his office and pays a dirty, toothless, homeless man (Darwyn Swalve) to do things like snoop through Grant Realty's trash bin and trash condos Lisa's team is attempting to sell. Meanwhile, a dog-food-eating (!) psycho is going around slaughtering both agents and potential home buyers. After discovering an ant infestation and splattered dog food in the kitchen, realtor Melody (played by Morgan Fairchild's look-a-like sister Cathryn Hartt), discovers a rotting corpse upstairs in the bathtub swarming with flies. That corpse belongs to victim #5 of what the press are referring to as “The Open House Killer.” Amusingly, the main detective on the case, Arnold Shapiro (Robert Miano), has little sympathy for the victims, calling them “real estate bimbos” and noting “They'd sell their own mothers for a commission!”

Lisa's boyfriend is psychologist Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms), who hosts “The Survival Line” show at KDRX radio. Judging by the opening scene, where a suicidal young woman blows her brains out in a phone booth after admitting she's been screwing her own father for years, "Survival Line" may not be the best name for his program. David's unorthodox methods of dealing with his callers' problems over the air has gotten him into hot water with the APA (American Psychologist's Association), but his high ratings and salary keep him going strong nonetheless. Dr. Kelley takes a new caller named Harry, who wants to talk about the recent string of murders. Harry comments that the “uppity real estate bitches” got what they deserved and claims he's pissed they're living it up in luxurious homes while others don't have anything to eat. Damn, did I write this in my sleep? The screenplay for this tasteless film is, strangely-enough, from David Mickey Evans, who has done nothing but kid's movies (The Sandlot, direct-to-video Beethoven sequels) other than this.

When she's not taking up precious air time by posing as sex-starved Southern belle “Mary Lou” to help spice up her love life with David, Lisa is having numerous run-in's with “human phlegm ball” Barney. When she catches Barney harassing appraiser Pilar (Christina Gallegos) she asks, “When's the last time you even so much as read the ingredients on a stick of deodorant?” and follows with “It's showing again Barney... and it's real small.” Barney later accosts her in her car, tells her he's sick of her “snotty ass Beverly Hills crap” and threatens to punch her in the face. Later at a board meeting, she exposes him for who is he in front of the president and her life is threatened once again. But does Barney, who is bitter over having once been the top agent in Beverly Hills, have anything to do with the recent string of grisly murders?

Despite some genuinely amusing scenes (mostly intentionally comic ones between agent and buyer), this is a real clunker that wears out its welcome pretty quickly. There's zero suspense, no scares, highly variable acting, some pretty awful dialogue and the whole thing is poorly paced and schizo with its tone. After cops tap the radio station's phone lines, there's even a pathetic attempt to rip off the “He's calling from inside the house!” twist previously seen in Black Christmas (1974) and When a Stranger Calls (1979) that falls completely flat. This does offer up some blood and nudity, including Barbeau (briefly), Roxanne Baird as a dominatrix who is killed while skinny dipping in a pool and some random guy in the shower, but none of that really helps matters any. The gore is minimal but the death scenes are many and include several hangings, an off-screen decapitation, electrocution via champagne and electrical wires, fingers cut off and two people slashed up with a razor-lined toilet plunger handle (?!)

This Sandy Cobe production was the very first English-language film for Mundhra, who left cinema in his native India to make trash like this here in America. He became best known in the 90s for a series of late night erotic thrillers starring the likes of Kathy Shower, Tanya Roberts and Shannon Tweed. The cast includes Rudy Ramos (who was on the TV show Hunter at the time) as another radio show host, Page Mosley as a queeny station engineer, Swedish former Miss World Mary Stavin, Scott Thompson Baker, Stacey Adams (the daughter of TV star Don Adams of Get Smart fame), Sheila Ryan (ex-wife of James Caan), 70s drive-in regular Tiffany Bolling and nasal-voiced hardcore porno actor Robert Bullock (using the name “Richard Parnes”).

There's no official DVD release, only a VHS from Prism. However, a decent-quality widescreen print has played on cable TV before.

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