All In The Family
THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN is a sort of black CAT AND THE CANARY story, obviously indebted to THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and ironically also dating back to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers… which might have made a good title for a blaxploitation film. Maybe not. It’s an amiable piece of work, with the strong performances and writing I’ve found typical of the blaxploitation horror sub-genre (except BLACKENSTEIN).
Director Ron Honthaner manages a few nice tropes and one very good scare (Fiona screamed and frightened the cat), but his film is a bit flat and overlit. Mildred Pares’ script is strong on dialogue and she seems to really like her characters, which helps actors and audience alike. Sadly, neither Honthaner nor Pares made another feature. This is a little indie movie made in Atlanta, Georgia — the only “star” is sitcom actor Mike Evans, playing a wonderfully stupid and obnoxious character (the exception to the likability rule here), alternately grinning arrogantly or staring in sullen, slack-jawed incomprehension. He’s so aggravating, something valuable goes out of the film when he’s not around.
The lead is Janee Michelle, who was so memorable in SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM — she doesn’t get such great scenes here, but she projects intelligence and conviction, anchoring the film in some kind of reality. The leading man is a white, schlubby guy called Victor French, who’s such an unexpected choice, and such an appealing, low key performer, that he adds another tub-load of charm to the proceedings.
The current NAACP view seems to be that blaxploitation films were a good thing because they gave roles and visibility to African-American talent. This wasn’t so much their attitude at the time. Seeing the excellent and personable performers in this film, both BLACULA movies and SUGAR HILL and JD’S REVENGE, it’s depressing to think that all this ability was out there all along and rendered invisible by lack of opportunity. And that it mostly vanished again. The very least you could say about the performances in these films is that they’re easily better than most of those in white-centric exploitation films of the era.
Endearingly fake matte painting, intercut with characters looking at it from brightly sunlit desert locations…
Four cousins are gathered in an old mansion atop the titular matte painted mountain (a rather unconvincing job where it’s always a foggy night, even when it’s the POV of a character filmed on a bright sunny day). They’re there for the reading of a will, which is delayed, and then they start dying. It’s fairly PG certificate stuff, with no nudity (a little diaphanous robe action) and hardly any bloodshed, but what matters is that we actually care about the people. The plot is a touch thin, it’s true, but just enough to maintain interest, apart from the long and curiously slack voodoo ritual near the climax. When we finally get a zombie, it’s pretty special.