The House On Skull Mountain

Director: Ron Honthaner                
Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand

The House On Skull Mountain is one of those movies that insults The ugly box art is the scariest thing about the movie your intelligence so much, you start to think that the producers had contempt for the audience even before filming began. Though someone like Ed Wood Jr. was an even worse filmmaker, you can see in his movies that he was trying, and, in a twisted way, you can sort of see why he thought that everything in his final cuts was competent enough. Not here, though; this movie is not scary, nor is there anything significantly interesting to be found. Wood may have made some pretty bad movies, but they were never boring movies.

This blaxploitation movie was made by 20th Century-Fox ("A Chocolate Chip & Pinto Production", according to the credits), and it should be noted that during the period this movie was made, the studio made several movies that were originally made for television, but then released to theaters. There were also some movies that they made for theaters but looked like they were made for TV - The House On Skull Mountain being one of them. The music, from individual background melodies to one note musical "stings" for supposedly scary scenes sounds muted and rushed, like it was composed in less than a week. The cinematography has that washed-out look common in TV dramas of the period. The sets do not look elaborate enough for a theatrical film. Instead of taking a crew to the area where the events of the movie are supposed to be taking place (the state of Georgia), they try to pass off the dry and rocky mountains of southern California as the area outside of Atlanta. Skull Mountain is actually a cheesy matte painting that is noticeably bobbing up and down the first time we see it.

And the house itself? It's one of those standard houses that is sorely lacking any landscape care on the outside, though the current owner seems to have enough money to afford two servants to keep the place tidy on the inside. It's also supposed to be isolated on the very top of this mountain, though in one scene when one of the four visitors to the house opens the front door to come in, you can see a car racing by on a highway in the background. Those visitors? To the story. Just before she dies, elderly Mrs. Christoff, the present owner of The House On Skull Mountain, sends off four letters, calling four of her distant relatives - none of whom had previously known about her - to come to The House On Skull Mountain because of...well, she doesn't really say why in her letters. Since there is no coherent explanation elsewhere in the movie, the only reason must be so that this movie could be made.

The four relatives consist of two women (Janee Michelle and Xernona Clayton) and two men. One of the men is played by Mike Evans from The Jeffersons, and I'm sure that even in 1974 some of the few people who saw this movie were offended. His remark, "You dig the scene" is one of the more milder of his many, many outbursts. From his first appearance his character is thoroughly unlikable, and the constant cuts to him stereotypically shucking and jiving (or mouthing off something that just screams, "Stereotype!") is both infuriating and embarrassing to watch, and you wish you could strangle him. The only positive thing he brings to this movie is some unintentional amusement in one scene where he wears incredibly ugly black and white checkered pants. Fortunately, his character exits the movie (and in a somewhat satisfying way for the audience) around the halfway point.

Coming off much better is Victor French, who plays an anthropology professor and the family's lone white member (that latter fact is promised to be explained later in the movie, but never is.) Although he underplays his role somewhat, he puts enough warmth and likeability into his character so that we root for him. Interestingly, not only does he end up being the hero, but all of the other white characters with bit parts in the movie are likable as well - a rarity for the blaxploitation genre. However, the movie isn't as gutsy about race as you might think; a small subplot about an interracial romance blooming between the French character and one of his distant relatives is started, forgotten about until near the end of the movie, and immediately backed off when it's brought up again. In fact, the only reason why the building romance seems to have been put in the movie in the first place is to show a musical montage of the couple going around Atlanta buying stuff, looking around, eating together, etc.

This isn't the only padding in the movie; over and over again do we see the same sequence of shots of the house, each one closer to the front door with that cheesy gold knocker on the front. French's discovery in the basement near the end of the movie goes on much longer than it needs to, though it does provide a few unintentional giggles. In fact, the movie is more unintentionally funny than scary - and there aren't that many unintentional laughs anyway.  is not the least bit scary. Its PG rating certainly limits what it can do, but not completely - The Legend Of Hell House, made by the same studio the previous year, is a PG horror movie that's still creepy by today's standards. The House On Skull Mountain, on the other hand, tries to scare its audience in not only a manner that seems suited for television, but in a way episodes of Scooby-Doo tried to be "scary" for kiddies in the '70s - in other words, doors and windows being blown open, images of skulls superimposed on the screen, and quiet hooded figures that stick their heads out from behind seats and walls. Yawn. I've seen scarier Disney movies. To tell the truth, I couldn't see one thing in this movie that would justify its PG rating - by 1974 standards, it should have been given a G.

The House On Skull Mountain is a horror movie for those who don't like horror movies, since it is completely devoid of scares despite having a story structure that could be milked for horror by those who had only a shred of talent. Slow and sluggish, the only way it can frighten you is by it putting you to sleep and you then subsequently have a nightmare from some previous problem in your life.

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See also: Amityville Dollhouse, The Doorway, House Of Usher