The Video Nasties #41 – Massacre Mansion (1976, Michael Pataki)

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‘Nancy is going to have her sight back, 

and I don’t appreciate your pessimism!’

Massacre Mansion is flat, lifeless semi-remake of the French horror classic Eyes Without a Face, or, as I like to say, Night of the Bloody Apes…with eyeballs! It’s one of those films that’s entirely competently made with decent performances from real pros like Richard Basehart and Lance Henriksen, but fails on one level – it’s utterly boring.

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Basehart plays a surgeon who’s daughter loses her eyesight when their car swerves to avoid a dog. Obsessed with restoring her sight, he begins to transplant eyeballs from living donors, inexplicably starting with her boyfriend. He keeps the donors alive and sightless in a cage, and there’s simply no way that they are going to escape at the end of the film. Uh-huh, there’s not a chance that the good doctor will somehow end up in that very cage with his eyes removed. It’s simply not gonna happen guys, so get over it.

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Massacre Mansion is one of the least memorable of all the Nasties. It seems designed to confound audience enjoyment every step of the way. What would you want to see in a film with this plot? Perhaps the doctor carefully stalking his victims, catching them alone and then subduing them after a struggle? How about an exciting chase sequence, or some crazy violence, or even some boobs? Forget it. What you get instead is Basehart wandering around while we listen to his inner monologue. Seriously, first he’s walking around his house. Then, he’s walking by the sea. Later, he’s walking through a fruit market. Walk, walk, walk, talk, talk, talk. Usually he’ll spot a victim, and suddenly we cut to the eye surgery. How did he get them there? Oh, we won’t bore you with such details. Look, here’s some more stock footage of eye surgery…

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There’s one decent shock early on when Lance reveals he’s still alive and missing both his eyes (quite a cool make-up job) and one scene where the pace actually picks up a bit. It’s a cringeworthy, sleazy bit where Basehart decides to pick up a little girl for his experiments. He comes across as a total paedo, offering to take her to Disneyland. She manages to escape and there’s a brief flicker of excitement, but it soon ends.

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What Massacre Mansion really needs is some ironic, black humour. There’s a moment where Basehart pays off a blackmailer, who says, ‘This is the last time we’ll be seeing you,’ before inevitably cutting to a shot of him having his eyes removed. There’s also a hysterical scene where a blind woman makes her big escape from the dungeon and runs straight into the road where she’s hit by a car. I’m not saying the whole film should have been a campy yuck-fest like this, but a surer hand and a better script might have helped Massacre Mansion be at least watchable. As it stands, it’s one of the dullest films on the list, lacking even basic thrills, tension or humour.

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