166. The Murder Mansion aka Maniac Mansion aka La mansión de la niebla (1972)
Director: Francisco Lara Polop
Writers: Luis G. de Blain and Antonio Troiso
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Various travelers get lost and find themselves converging on a house by a cemetery haunted by the ghosts of a witch and her chauffeur.
We open with footage of people driving which is always a sign of high-quality filmmaking. A motorist, Mr. Porter, passes a motorcyclist, Fred. Fred aggressively pursues Porter until Fred finally succeeds in passing the car. Then Fred stops for a hitchhiker, Laura, but she gets into the car instead. Porter gets too handsy, though, so at the next rest stop, Laura leaves to ride with Fred. Porter, despairingly, warns them that “something will happen.” This is the 166th movie I’ve watched from these sets. He’s lying.
Cut to another couple driving, the Tremonts. Mr. Tremont is the lawyer for Elsa who’s divorcing her philandering husband Ernest. Ernest says he can’t make it to their planned destination because of car trouble so Elsa, despite the fog, decides to drive out to pick him up. The Tremonts follow in their car. When Ernest hangs up the phone, though, he’s in the nearby restaurant where Fred and Laura are—he’s lying!
To jump ahead, Mr. Porter and the Tremonts have a head-on collision that take out their cars, Fred and Laura are almost run over by a Rolls Royce driven by a hulking chauffeur, and Elsa’s car breaks down near the cemetery where she’s chased by the hulking chauffeur and an old woman. They all end up at a nearby house owned by Marta, the niece of the former owner, a witch who was suspected of being a vampire when twelve people in the nearby town died one night. The aunt was killed in a car accident along with her chauffeur.
*exhale* Exposition over.
So they’re all stuck in the house for the night. The movie feels a lot like The Devils Nightmare meets Scooby-Doo. Part of this is due to the musical choices of the producers. It sounds like outtakes from the cartoon. That most of the scares involve people taking off masks and hidden passages doesn’t help.
The events of the movie, such as they are, mostly involve jump scares designed to harry or kill the people in the house. We also get flashbacks of Elsa getting mad at her father for hooking up with her college friends (which ultimately leads to him dying of a heart attack while screwing one of them) and Elsa hooking up with her future husband almost in revenge. It’s about the purest form of padding you’ll ever see.
Meanwhile, Fred and Laura go full “Jinkies!” and search the forbidden cellar. They find an empty coffin with the aunt’s name and things gradually escalate with sightings of the ghost chauffeur and the evil aunt. As they’re investigating, a mysterious figure appears and starts wandering through the cellar.
Scooby sense intensifying. Fred figures out the whole thing is a set-up, Laura tries to keep Elsa and Mrs. Tremont safe, the twist that isn’t that surprising is revealed only to be immediately subverted by a second twist! Then Fred and Laura ride off into the sunrise with inappropriately upbeat music considering the mountain of corpses in the house. The End.
This isn’t particularly good. The movie tries to construct its mood through referencing scary things, but never manifesting or even showing them. For instance, the rooms that all the people are staying in are deeply unnerving due to the Boschian paintings on the walls. Only we never see the paintings or shots demonstrating how creepy the rooms are. The characters say it’s creepy, and that’s supposed to be enough.
Compounding that is the plot doesn’t make sense. There’s a bit of a Gaslight/The Screaming Skull thing going on, but gathering all these people at the house, most of them strangers who yet are essential to the plan, depends on a whole lot of coincidence that strains credulity. A vampiric witch rising from the grave to claim more victims seems more plausible.
The movie’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It’s fine enough to laugh at on a Saturday afternoon, but not of much interest beyond that. I think this had previously been public domain, but has been GATT’d and is no longer free to use.