The House of Seven Corpses (1973)

The House of Seven Corpses (1973) Horror, when not a laughing devil, is at times a reflection on its own exploitative nature. Too often it’s the military (Day of the Dead (1985)), the government (Nightmare City (1980)), or the rapists and the racists who are the real bad guys to watch out for, not little ol’ me with my camera and bloody horror show.

But nothing deflates the glee of horror like imagining a family actually touched by tragedy, a family in need of avoiding any horrific media, lest their emotions be stirred. In a way, and I know this is a bit of a reach, The House of Seven Corpses touches on that: a film crew begins filming in a home where a family was murdered. It’s meta before meta was meta, and a gothic, zombie sendoff before slashers became mainstream.

Horror as a rule exploits death, and that fact comes back in spades here.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling—Keep Them Cameras Rolling

The House of Seven Corpses

The House of Seven Corpses

Eric Hartman (John Ireland) is a filmmaker who believes the cursed Beal Mansion is the ticket to his next successful picture. He moves in a film-crew despite the warnings of caretaker Edgar Price (John Carradine) and begins reenacting the murders of the seven members of the Beal family.

After performing very much real occult rituals during the reenactments, the body of the Beals’ murderer is summoned from the dead and wrecks havoc on the cast (kudos to the imaginary film’s dramaturg on that one: super accurate incantations). The rest you can basically predict yourself as the cast is terrorized by the real killer — zombie killer, that is.

The House of Seven Corpses the final film of Faith Domergue, the sci-fi starlet famous for This Island Earth (1955) and It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955). The House of Seven Corpses is also the only feature-length project from director Paul Harrison, who worked primarily in television (H.R. Pufnstuf and Doctor Dolittle). Turner Classic Movies points out that this film was “a reliable drive-in fixture” and later a midnight movie on TV in the 80s.

American Gothic

The House of Seven Corpses

The House of Seven Corpses

One head-scratcher — a leftover from the 70s — is the film’s PG rating. Although movies actually were given this rating around 1973 (before the advent of PG-13), the rating seems completely odd now given some bloody violence and a potentially high kiddie fright factor. But of higher historic note, TCM points to two factors in regards to the film’s position in the annals of horror. For starters, it’s an “old-fashioned gothic shocker” that predates the violent slasher flicks of “just a few years later.” While I take issue with the time-frame (the original Texas Chainsaw came in 1974), the setting of a large gothic home occupied by a lumbering zombie killer is certainly quaint, even by 70s standards.

The second notable point is how The House of Seven Corpses predates the “meta-horror trend” by several decades, with TCM pointing to Scream (1996) — and I’ll throw in the modern genre-bending classic The Cabin in the Woods (2012) as well. I welcome when horror turns in on itself with just a few more degrees from the self-conscious nature of horror comedy. The House of Seven Corpses is a bit too flat to say much in this regard, but it still gives a horror-fan pause for thought.

Horror is cathartic because there are real horrors in the world, lest we forget to respect those damaged by tragedy after the lights go up.

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Written by: Ben Mueller