Monday, January 11, 2016

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982) / GHOST WARRIOR (aka SWORDKILL) (1986) (Blu-ray Review)

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982) / 
GHOST WARRIOR (1986) DOUBLE FEATURE 

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Kevin Connor
Cast: Mako Hattori, Doug McClure, Edward Albert, Susan George, Amy Barrett


The a-side to this samurai double feature is The House where Evil Dwells (1982), a strange Japanese ghost story that begins in the year 1840 when a Samurai returns home to find his cheating wife in the arms of another man. He watches from outside stewing in his own anger before tearing through the wall with his sword and hacking away at the lovers, slicing off the arm and decapitating her lover, before slicing her treacherous throat. Afterward he commits hara-kiri, plunging his own sword into his guts. The whole scene is awesome, it has a surreal feel, and is well-shot with slow-motion cinematography. 

A century later American photojournalist Ted (Edward Albert, Galaxy Of Terror) and his comely Laura (Susan George, Straw Dogs) move into the very same house in Japan with their annoying daughter Amy (Amy Barrett, Humanoids from the Deep). The house known by the locals villagers to be haunted by the trio of spirits but the modern Americans are beyond believing in such superstitions, their ignorance leads to some ghostly shenanigans and quite a bit of '80s silliness. 


What happens is that Laura and Edward become possessed by the spirits, as does their American friend Alex (Doug McClure, At the Earth's Core), this causes Laura to begin an affair with Alex. It seems the spirits are intent on recreating the tragic lover's triangle from a century before. Not an awful set-up by any means, but the execution is flawed and comes across as what I like to call '80s goofy. Thankfully for viewers the comely Susan George bares herself tot he camera on numerous occasions, which is one of the saving graces of this strange samurai-haunter mash-up of a movie. 

There's some fun to be had for fans of haunting movies, I loved the old school special effects that brought the spirits to life, a bit of smoke and mirrors, some fun Kabuki style corpse paint and loads of '80s weirdness, including a decent scene of giant crabs attack in children in their bedroom is a lot of b-movie fun. Not to mention some bloody samurai action and both ends of the movie, but nothing really comes up to the level of the opening with the bloody swordplay and surreal cinematography. 


The movie was directed by Kevin Connor (Motel Hell), he does a fine job visually and the movie is well composed and assembled, but there's no escaping just how silly the content is, spirit faces in bowls of soup and clanging pots and pans are corny, and the vintage visual effects might cause a modern audience to scoff, but I love the images of the spirits, which even I admit are a corny. 


Edward Albert and Susan George overcome the goofy premise with strong performances, though Albert goes over-the-top in a scene where is young daughter sees the face of a spirit in her soup bowl. Scared, she refuses to eat and he becomes enraged, physically forcing her to slurp it down, which brought to mind Oliver Reed trying to drown his son in Burnt Offerings. I couldn't blame him though, I wanted to strangle young actress Amy Barrett, she is just awful in every scene, one of the worst child actors of the eighties. 


I can see fans of cheesy eighties cinema and weird Japanese horror having a blast watching The House Where Evil Dwells.  It's a weird one all the way around, which is what made it as enjoyable as it is for me ... that and the numerous scenes of Susan George nude, which certainly didn't hurt it. 

GHOST WARRIOR (aka SWORDKILL) 

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 81 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: J. Larry Carol 
Cast: Janet Julian, John Calvin, Charles Lampkin, Frank Schuller, Hiroshi Fujioka


The next feature is equally cheesy but not as much fun in my opinion, the Empire Picture production Ghost Warrior (1986) which s very much am '80s stranger in a strange land movie. Again the opening scene takes place long ago in Japan, a samurai Yoshimitsu, Hiroshi Fujiok) is mortally wounded while defending his bride. The snowbound set and scenario is pretty cool, not on par with Lady Snowblood, but cool enough to make this one of the better scenes in the whole of the movie. As his liofe fades the samurai hurls himself from a cliff into a frozen river below. Four-hundred years later his preserved body is found encased in a block of ice and his remains are sent to Los Angeles for an autopsy. 

However, scientist Dr. Alan Richards (John Calvin) has other pans, they thaw him out and are able to revive the samurai, bringing in an "oriental expert" named Chris Welles (Janet Julian), keep in mind, an expert who does not speak Japanese. Unhappy with his arrangement at the clinic the samurai finds himself on the loose in '80s L.A. battling small time crooks on the streets and making friends with an older black man he saves from a group of thugs. Angered by the interference of the warrior more street toughs arrive and try to avenge their fallen brothers... which does not end well.


You can sort of see what producers Albert and Charles Band were trying for here, an eighties fish out of water story, a samurai warrior on the streets of modern Los Angeles sounds like it would be a lot of fun, but it fails on nearly every front. Scenes of the warrior being spooked by modern conveniences grows old fast, scenes of him being mystified by an electric light, or horrified by watching the band W.A.S.P. playing their song "Tormentor" on TV are weak sauce. I think I wanted more eighties cheese along the lines of Ninja III: Dominion (1984), a movie that fully embraced the craziness and went full-on weird, this one had potential in concept but failed me on the execution. 

Street thugs lure the samurai to an empty warehouse where they attack him on motorcycle, which ends about how you would expect but there's a lack of blood and guts, if you're gonna have a samurai in L.A. battling street toughs I demand some decent gore, severed limbs, heads should have been rolling, but what we get is tame and that was just lame.  Hiroshi Fujiok does a just decent job as the samurai caught in an eighties time warp, but everyone else is pretty awful, it doesn't help that the story is weak and hackneyed even by eighties standards. 

Both films arrived on Blu-ray from Scream Factory looking surprisingly good, particularly The House where Evil Dwells which has some impressive depth and clarity to the image, the film grain has not been scrubbed away by digital manipulation and colors are vibrant. Both movies benefits from pleasing 1080p HD transfers, even Ghost Warrior, which of the two does have some minor scratches and softness in some scenes. The DTS-HD MA Mono and Stereo audio options are adequate, with the dialogue and score nicely balanced. Neither of the respective scores from Ken Thorn (Superman II) and Richard Band (Re-Animator) are overly memorable but do come through with good fidelity. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. 

This was a good pairing from Scream Factory, clearly neither warrant a special edition Blu-ray on their own but collectively they make for a fun eighties samurai double-feature for fans of Reagan-era cheese. Of the pair the a-side wins the sword fight easily with The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) standing victorious over the decapitated corpse of the inferior Ghost Warrior (1984). 3/5

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