While reading up on LANCE HENRIKSEN for our VISITOR post, I noticed he was in a horror film from 1976 called MANSION OF THE DOOMED. I might not have given it a second thought but the film also featured GLORIA GRAHAME and VIC TAYBACK who both appeared in 1971’s BLOOD AND LACE which I now love. Happily I found MANSION on YouTube and so I attached my speakers to the computer, turned off all the lights and got to viewing. The quality of the image was not the best, but sometimes I need a little gritty fiber in my eyeball diet and we all know that films from the seventies look swell dressed in scratches and un-mastered rags. My head is a car and the laptop is the drive-in.
MANSION is like a Grindhouse EYES WITHOUT A FACE. RICHARD BASEHART (‘77s ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) plays Dr. Leonard Chaney who, due to shitty driving, causes his daughter Nancy to lose her eyesight. Feeling like a schmuck he decides with the help of his loyal wife Katherine (GRAHAME) to drug his daughter’s fiancé (HENRIKSEN), surgically remove his eyeballs, stick them in his daughter’s head and then keep the poor eyeless guy locked in a cell in the basement. The new peeper plan works out super for a while but then fails, so Chaney tries again with another victim and then another. The basement begins to fill with eyeless prisoners and his daughter’s face begins to look like Scrapple and everybody gets trapped in an unhealthy eyeball operation loop because the Doctor refuses to abide by the laws of his profession. “First, do no harm” and “Second, do no drugging, eye theft and prisoner keeping”!
For a film not spoken of often, MANSION has a notable pedigree. It’s the first horror film produced by CHARLES BAND and it was directed by character actor MICHAEL PATAKI who would direct the RAINBEAUX (LEMORA) SMITH semi-musical, soft-core flick CINDERELLA the same year. The score comes courtesy of ROBERT O. RAGLAND (ABBY, GRIZZLY) and the special and rather convincing absent eyeball effects were done by none other than a STAN (ALIENS, PUMPKINHEAD) WINSTON. The cinematographer was ANDREW DAVIS who went on to direct THE FINAL TERROR among others. I know trivia does not a worthwhile film make, but yay to the film that feeds my IMDb addiction.
Sadly, there’s not much particularly striking here on a visual level unless you include the mansion’s cobalt blue shag rug. There’s one neat shot that represents a crystallized memory of the Doctor’s as a floating pinhole image but much of the direction is too perfunctory. In addition, I don’t think the film did a very good job convincing me of its reality, but then again I spent a lot of time worrying about where all of the prisoners who are trapped in a ten-foot by ten-foot cage were going to the bathroom. On the storytelling front, the film cheats a lot and hopes that you don’t notice and what happened to TAYBACK? He shows up, acts suspicious and never comes into play again. These issues curb my affection but I have to offer some amount of applause to MANSION simply for being consistently grim and unapologetically gruesome. One scene of an eyeless woman stumbling about suburbia begging for aid to zero avail is still lodged in my brain, menially shot though it may be.
There’s something here about a rich man callously exploiting more and more unfortunate classes to diminishing returns but it’s not examined as much as it could be. I did find myself intrigued though by the doctor’s ability to perform such evil deeds whilst always maintaining his view of himself as an honorable man… ain’t that always the way? Eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that MANSION was a bit too shuffling and coarse to compete with BLOOD AND LACE in my heart but that does not disqualify it as a similarly underrated treasure in the cult oddity department. Maybe there are a handful of opportunities regrettably ignored but they certainly were not avoided due to timidity. Perhaps my expectations were unfair. It’s unlikely I was meant to “enjoy” my experience and I have to admit that I find myself having a hard time scraping MANSION from my psyche which alone is a mark of success. In any case, I’m thankful having stopped by the joint if for nothing more than its inclusion of what has to be one of the most kindertraumatic lines of dialogue ever spoken… “Hey, this isn’t the way to Disneyland!”