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Terror House
(a.k.a. The Folks At The Red Wolf Inn, The Terror At Red Wolf Inn, Red Wolf Inn, and Terror On The Menu)
(1972)
 

Director:Bud Townsend                                    
Cast:
Linda Gillin, Arthur Space, John Nielson


You may have wondered how I select the movies to be reviewed at this web site. I don't use one single method - I figure the best way is to use several methods, to increase my chance of finding those good unknown movies. Sometimes I'll come across a review for an obscure movie in a review book, and if it sounds interesting, I'll seek the movie out in video stores. Other times I come across movies on cable; since I have nothing to lose by watching these free movies, I'll usually sit down and watch them. However, many times I just go to a video store, and glance at the shelves. That's how I came across Terror House. I'd never heard of this movie before, and the video box (from a long-defunct distributor) caught my eye with its out-of-focus replication of the original movie poster. The art looked like it would be cheesy even if it was on a full-sized poster and in focus. So I decided to give it a play through my VCR. Sometimes taking a wild guess on an unknown movie can pay off, as it did with Terror House. It's definitely not a great movie, but taking a guess on this movie and being given a lot back gave me a lot of pleasure on top of the cheeky and amusing moments found here.

I didn't know what the movie was about when I rented it; there was no plot description on the back of the box. That made it fun for the first few minutes, trying to figure out what the movie was about. In those first few minutes, we meet Regina (Gillin), a young college student on some unidentified campus. Returning from classes one day, she finds she's gotten a letter saying she's won a free vacation at some lodge she's never heard of. Figuring not to look a gift horse in the mouth, she contacts the lodge, which immediately arranges a charter airplane to fly her out, not giving her time to call her mother. Arriving at her destination, she is driven to Red Wolf Inn, where she meets two other young women staying there, plus the owners - Henry (Space) and Evelyn (Mary Jackson), the sweetest, kindest elderly couple you can imagine. It's strange - the telephone is out of order at the lodge, and Evelyn doesn't seem to want Regina to go anywhere near the walk-in freezer. Anyway, it's time for dinner! The highlight of the dinner is when Henry brings in a big plate of ribs, making endless comments like, "Just as moist as it can be!" and "There's more where that came from!". Then the action pauses, focusing on the the couple, their somewhat feeble-minded young adult grandson "Baby" (Nielson) and the three women eating the ribs, including quite a few close-up shots of their mouths working on the meat. ("Best meat you ever tasted, eh, Regina?") The director keeps focus on all this rib-tickling eating for the next few minutes.

By now I think you've guessed that Henry and Evelyn are hiding some secret, and what that secret is. If you don't, here's another clue: After dinner, everyone goes to bed, and the next morning Regina can't help but notice that one of the guests is gone, supposedly "left" during the night. You've got it. And if I were to ask you what happens until the end, you would certainly give a synopsis that covers what does indeed happen. (Except for some bizarre happenings towards the end, resulting in a weird ending that will leave you slightly bewildered.) No, no real surprises regarding the story. But I didn't mind sitting through all of this, because it was overall well executed. The main key to bringing life to a familiar premise like this is in the acting and the characters. Gillin does a good job portraying her character as being average in intelligence, not entirely helpless, (she comes up with some possible solutions when she finds herself in trouble) and her naive parts of her character Regina are comfortable enough to be accept. Except maybe when she finally makes the big discovery - she has been exposed to so much evidence beforehand, it's hard to believe that she would finally make a connection so late in the game. Nielson's character of "Baby" isn't the drooling cretin you might think - the character is interestingly seen struggling on the thin line between average intelligence and mild retardation. The shark sequence shows another interesting side of his character as well, and Nielson caps this scene by being given an incredibly funny one-liner.

The real stars of this movie are Space and Jackson as the elderly couple, even though surprisingly the focus of the movie isn't really on them. They play the couple as being very sweet and lovable, though they are careful not to be too sweet and lovable. Otherwise, their then broad performances would no longer be amusing, but just plain forced and out of tone with the rest of the movie. Even in the inevitable slaughter to come, the camera looks away from their actions so that we just hear the mayhem, instead of actually seeing it. The gore level in this movie is actually pretty light (the movie is rated PG), which may disappoint some horror fans. I actually would agree with them - a movie covering a ghoulish subject such as this needs to show what it is about instead of just alluding to it. Perhaps the director was afraid it would overshadow the general light comic tone, but I think with some careful direction the movie could have been both gory and funny.

In fact, the movie does sometimes forget it's a horror movie - there's a pointless dream sequence almost forcibly placed in after a long period where nothing like horror has happened for some time. A police chase near the beginning is also anti-climatic, though by itself it's a well-directed sequence. And admittedly there are a few dramatic sequences in the movie that are both tense and fit acceptably in the amusing humor-accented plot. Terror House may be full of ingredients you've eaten many times before, but they are baked together into a nice little meal.

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See also: Carnival Of Blood, Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates, Slaughter High

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