Tuesday 1 October 2019

October Horrors 2019 # 1:
(Michael Dugan, 1983?)

 An independently-produced horror film shot in Los Angeles and Ventura County, ‘Mausoleum’ seems to have first surfaced on video in 1983, although evidence would seem to suggest that it was actually shot in the late ‘70s. IMDB meanwhile specifies Feb-Mar 1981 shooting dates, which seems like a happy compromise. Either way, the film’s widescreen 35mm photography and general technical proficiency suggest that its producers were initially gunning for a theatrical distribution deal which never materialised.

Be that as it may, ‘Mausoleum’ is a crudely commercial venture which strays into the realm of high weirdness solely as a result of its fevered determination to “deliver the goods” to a hypothetical target audience. Though the film exhibits a near total lack of talent, taste or originality, its makers nonetheless seem to have had a perfect understanding of the kind of stuff they needed to throw onto the screen in order to keep rubes like me watching, and for that I salute them.

Garish gel lighting, swathes of dry ice, gratuitous nudity, lashings of bright red gore, gruesome prosthetic wound make-up, ridiculous creature designs and a wafer thin grasp of narrative logic…. man, anyone would think this thing was secretly made by Italians, were it not for the complete absence of style or atmosphere. (It does have J&B product placement though, so anything’s possible.)

Whilst taking in the film’s genuinely bizarre prologue – in which disembodied voices lure a little girl in a fairy tale dress toward an artificial fog-shrouded, disco-lit gothic chapel which incongruously lurks in the middle of an otherwise drab suburban cemetery – it occurred to me that ‘Mausoleum’ may possibly have been inspired by the success of 1979’s Phantasm, with its similarly surreal, graveyard-based shenanigans and use of an evocative / antiquated word as a title. If Don Coscarelli’s film was indeed an influence though, the similarities are soon dropped once the main body of the movie gets underway.

The body in question is that of dead-eyed, platinum blonde actress Bobbie Bresee, appearing here in what I believe was her only leading role, though she went on to scale the giddy heights of minor b-movie renown through supporting parts in the likes of ‘Ghoulies’ and ‘Surf Nazis Must Die’. Bresee plays Susan, the grown up version of the girl we saw in the prologue, and her ‘department store model’ physique is ruthlessly and rather mechanically exploited by the filmmakers - so if you like looking at it, you’re already quids in with ‘Mausoleum’.

Susan, it transpires, is now the idle trophy wife of a successful businessman played by perpetually weird-looking former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner (‘Food of the Gods’, ‘Starcrash’, etc). The couple are apparently quite rich, as they live together in an extravagant white columned mansion-house with its own grounds, assorted grotesque-yet-expensive looking furniture, flashy cars etc, but despite these material comforts, all is not well.

I’m not sure I quite have all this straight, so please bear with me, but I think the general idea is that Susan is an unwitting descendent of – wait for it – the thrice-cursed NEMOD dynasty, erstwhile owners/occupants of that spooky chapel we saw in the prologue. As a result of her childhood visit to the mausoleum, Susan has become possessed by a demonic spirit which, now that she is all grown up, occasionally takes over her body, gifting her with luminous, glowing eyes, sharp teeth, sundry supernatural powers, and, in extreme cases, a hob-gobliny face like some creature from ‘The Dark Crystal’ or whatever.

Well, I think that’s basically the gist of it, anyway – my address is in the sidebar if credited screenwriters Robert Barich, Robert Madero or Katherine Rosenwink wish to set me straight on the finer details.

So yeah, from hereon in, what we’re essentially looking at is an OTT ‘80s trash version of an exorcism movie, structured around the idea of the demonically possessed Susan gradually murdering a procession of obnoxious and/or comedic secondary characters, whilst poor old Marjoe frets and wonders what’s wrong with her, and her psychiatrist (ubiquitous Hollywood character player Norman Burton, who must have had an especially big tax bill to deal with in 1981 or something) steps up in the all-important exorcist role.

Susan’s first victim is a boorish, inebriated slob who harasses her whilst she and her husband are ‘enjoying’ an evening at their local night club – a location which I confess I found more terrifying than any of the film’s supernatural horror scenes. I don’t know what benighted corner of Southern California they found this place in, but it’s a low-ceilinged, ‘hotel bar’ type room full of dark wood panelling and plush leather furnishings, in which tired-looking middle-aged couples in formal evening wear shuffle around distractedly to sounds of a white, ersatz disco ensemble (heavy on the Kenny G sax), after being served unappealing cocktails in grotesquely elaborate glassware.

Quite possibly the most comprehensively uncool night spot I have ever seen featured in a motion picture, the horrors of this unsavoury joint entirely overshadow the telekinetic car fire which does away with the drunken groper – an incident which is merely *awkward* for all concerned.

Awkwardness continues to be the film’s defining motif as Susan turns her attentions to here house’s stereotypically lecherous Hispanic gardener (actor Maurice Sherbanee’s performance reminded me of Dr Nick Riviera from ‘The Simpsons’). This whole business takes up what feels like a pretty long stretch of the movie’s middle half hour, with Susan alternately leading the horny devil on with peek-a-boo balcony appearances (whilst demonically possessed), and being repulsed by his attentions (whilst in ‘normal’ mode).

Although I realise I was probably supposed to be looking at Bobbie Bresee’s breasts whilst all this was going on, I instead found myself becoming increasingly infuriated by the way the gardener seemed to be spending ages and ages attempting to remove an unsightly tree stump by half-heartedly swinging an axe into the top of it. That won’t bloody work mate! What the hell are you even doing? You’ve at least got to get a pitchfork under there to pull the roots up, or maybe even use a small digger. What a useless gardener! (Actually, now that I think about it, Susan does eventually butcher him with a planting fork post-coitus, so maybe that’s poetic justice of a sort?)

Mercifully spared from Susan’s wrath meanwhile is the family’s comic relief maid Elsie, played by veteran comedienne LaWanda Page, who is instead called upon to enact a hand waving “fleeing from the haunted house” routine unseen since the days of Mantan Moreland.

I feel a bit torn about Elsie’s character to be honest. On the one hand, she clearly represents an appalling racial stereotype which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history long before 1981, but, on the other hand, she is also hands down the most entertaining character in this movie, raiding her employers’ liquor cabinet with gusto, and delivering lines like “good googly-moogly, I need a drink of the hard stuff” and “no more heaving’, I’m leavin’” with Dolemite-level sass.

Meanwhile, poor old Auntie Nemod (no, really) suffers one of the film’s more elaborately grisly deaths, as she is suspended in mid-air by Susan’s evil powers and has her torso graphically torn open. A delivery guy subsequently gets splatted by invisible evil whilst trying to make a phonecall, and, during a visit to the shopping mall, an art dealer gets impaled on a big, spiky abstract sculpture when Susan’s demonic alter-ego develops an obsessive attraction to a painting that… well, words can’t quite express it, so it’ll probably be easiest if I just give you a quick screen-grab:

Thereafter, the film’s exorcism plot-line picks up speed for the final act as the psychiatrist – who has recorded one of Susan’s demonic transformations on tape - calls in a former mentor of his who specialises in this sort of thing.

Refreshingly for a movie of this vintage and general boorishness, this professor turns out to be woman who is neither sexy n’ objectified nor a crazy old bag, and together, the two of them set about delivering masses of exorcism-related exposition and begin preparing for a showdown loaded with more ridiculous, rubbery demon effects and green n’ purple tinted lighting than even I can really tolerate, culminating in what some viewers may consider ‘Mausoleum’s most memorable moment, as Bresee’s demonic boobs stretch out and develop their own pus-drooling faces. Cor blimey.

Special effects here were handled by John Carl Buechler, who went on to direct stuff like ‘Troll’ and ‘Cellar Dweller’ for Charles Band, which… actually kind of makes sense, I suppose? I mean, I may not have quite as much of a detailed understanding of 80s b-horror chronology as fans more thoroughly steeped in this particular area, but I’ve always had the general impression that it was in the late ‘80s - when trolls, gnomes, killer dolls and god knows what were running amok and films like ‘House’ and assorted ‘..Elm Street’ sequels were ruling the video shelves – that medium budget horror films, perhaps wary of censorship or simply aware of the genre’s increasingly young fan-base, began to focus on fantastical, rubbery creature designs as a substitute for more quote-unquote “realistic” sex n’ violence.

To my mind therefore, 1981 feels very early for the kind of latex monstrosities which dominate the last few reels of ‘Mausoleum’; perhaps we could even see Buechler’s work here as somewhat pioneering in that respect, although the film as a whole could perhaps be better framed as a transitory work, mixing full on, creature-feature goofiness with lurid gore and a defiantly puerile, ‘70s drive-in approach to nudity and sexual exploitation?

Well, who knows. Overall, ‘Mausoleum’ is a strange beast, standing out largely for its EC Comics-on-crack tastelessness, and for the eye-watering ugliness of its production design. In this respect, the film is pitched roughly on the level you’d expect from the kind of teenage SOV movie celebrated by Bleeding Skull, which sits oddly alongside its technical proficiency, orchestral score and cast of industry professionals.

In an attempt to understand this disjuncture, I will close by simply drawing your attention to the background of a couple of the film’s principal architects.

Producer Michael Franzese was an heir to New York’s notorious Colombo crime family who earned himself the nickname “The Yuppie Don” during the ‘80s, reportedly raking in a vast fortune via a gasoline bootlegging operation he arranged with the Russian Mafia. A veteran of numerous Grand Jury appearances, racketeering trials and state indictments, he is widely assumed to have begun investing in the film industry for the purposes of money laundering and/or tax avoidance. After ‘Mausoleum’, he went on to produce the impossibly crass (yet hugely entertaining) Linda Blair exploitation classic ‘Savage Streets’ (1984), before eventually getting hit with a jail term and subsequently re-inventing himself as a born-again motivational speaker.

Meanwhile, the sum total of director Michael Dugan’s other film industry credits to date are, in order: a 1976 kids movie named ‘Super Seal’, a 1999 T&A comedy (‘Raging Hormones’), and a 2015 “TV mini-series” entitled ‘The Adventures of Turkey Dude’, which does not appear to have ever been publically screened.

Somewhere between the aesthetics embodied by these two gentlemen, the essence of ‘Mausoleum’ lies, waiting.


Maurice Mickelwhite said...

"I instead found myself becoming increasingly infuriated by the way the gardener seemed to be spending ages and ages attempting to remove an unsightly tree stump by half-heartedly swinging an axe into the top of it. That won’t bloody work mate!"

I love it when things like that crop up in a film, when you sit there thinking "nah, thats not gonna work" at some random thing that you aren't really supposed to be paying much attention to YET draws the eye :)

I've been meaning to watch this one for yonks, so might finally get it on tonight. My main memory of it is being at a Halloween party aged about 11 and this was the chosen film. Even then "Nemod" didn't pass much muster amongst the group. Maybe they live next door to the Alucards?

Ben said...

Yeah, somewhere just down the road from Nilbog, probably. : ) (Actually, there's a slight 'Troll' connection here, so 'Mausoleum' might have been a distant influence on 'Troll 2's batshit scripting process, you never know...)

And, wow, yes - this film I think would be PERFECT for a Halloween party full of 11 year olds I think - it's pitched at exactly the right level for that age group (but just don't tell their parents).