Directed by Maury Dexter [Other horror films: The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)]
This one seems to have flown almost completely under the radar, and in fact, ever since I’ve known this movie existed, despite the promise the plot shows on IMDb, it’s never been classified in the ‘horror’ genre [though after this review was first written, it has since been categorized as such]. After having seen the film finally, I can dispel that and say it’s definitely horror, and not only that, but also a pretty decent one, all things considered.
What works well in this rather short film (clocks in around an hour and two minutes) is the creepy vibe it happens to possess. The setting, an old, large house on a hill, looks great, and the black-and-white brings with it additional charm. But there are some legitimately spooky scenes, one in which a man, walking on his hands (as he has no legs) crawls into a room and steals the keys to the house. They filmed that well, because I found it actually somewhat chilling.
The characters, those who appear for more than a few minutes, anyway, work out good too. Ron Foster does a pretty decent, if not perhaps somewhat unremarkable, job as the lead character, and playing his wife, Merry Anders (from the criminally-forgotten 1960 flick The Hypnotic Eye) provides a solid performance also. I could take or leave Erika Peters, but Richard Crane (The Alligator People) comes across well.
Extra interesting note: House of the Damned does contain a somewhat early appearance of Richard Kiel, who many may know from a couple of James Bond movies, but I always remember from the comedy Happy Gilmore. He’s a hell of a lot younger here, playing a mute giant, but he definitely has the same face and brings a good presence to the film.
If this had been done in the 1940’s, I suspect that it’d feel a bit less stellar, if only because old dark house films like this were all the rage back then. By the early 1960’s, though, they’d fallen out of favor, and because of that, this seems made during a somewhat unique time period for a movie of this nature. This doesn’t make House of the Damned any better, by any means, but I do think it allows the film to stand out a bit more (though given the fact not many people seem to know this one, perhaps only I got the memo).
House of the Damned isn’t likely to blow anyone away, but I did occasionally find the vibe really creepy, and the house was such a good, quality setting. A few good red herrings, along with a satisfactory conclusion (which I admittedly saw coming miles away, but I still appreciated it), I rather enjoyed this one. It’s short, charming, and definitely a film that I think more people should at least know about.