Tuesday, 9 April 2013

DVD Review: The House In Nightmare Park (1973)

house in nightmare park film poster

Foster Twelvetrees (Frankie Howerd) is failed actor ("the greatest master of the spoken word" according to his poster), with more ham than the cold counter at Tescos, and ideas above his station. So when he is invited to perform a reading at the imposing country home of Stewart Henderson (Ray Milland), he jumps at he chance. And the money. When various members of the Henderson family turn up demanding their regular allowance from the family patriarch Victor, they discover that he has, in fact died, and that the bumbling Twelvetrees is in the rightful heir to the family fortune, and may unwittingly know where some valuable diamonds are hidden. They must do away with the actor to stand a chance of collecting what they consider to be rightfully theirs, as well as all other competition for the diamonds.  
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Long unavailable in the UK (and pretty much elsewhere) this early '70s comedy horror was the perfect vehicle for the jittery Frankie Howerd. Much in the same vein as the Bob Hope haunted house comedies of the '30/40s (The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers), this, like the Hammer/William Castle remake of The Old Dark House, benefits from a brilliant cast, and great performances. Howerd essentially plays the same character we are used to, and ones enjoyment of the comedy does depend on whether you find his routine funny (I personally love it), but the script doesn't go over the top on his idiosyncrasies, so even his detractors could bear it.
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There is certainly more threat and creepiness than the usual films in this sub-genre, helped by the surroundings of Oakley Court, the go-to location for many a Hammer film (being situated next door to Bray Studios), with the lavish interior sets built at Pinewood. A sequence by the family of the house where they perform "The Dance of the Dolls" is both hilarious (Milland in a sailor boy's outfit is a something you don't often see) and incredibly bizarre. The double twist ending plays with the audience's expectations, displaying a shrewd knowledge of the genre.
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Director Peter Sykes had just made Demons of the Mind, an often overlooked film, for Hammer, and would return to their fold to helm their last feature before resorting to TV, To The Devil.. A Daughter (1976). Co-writer/producer Terry Nation was most famous for being the creator of the Daleks in Doctor Who, but he also was co-writer of the 1970 horror film And Soon The Darkness.. (recently remade). The other co-writer Clive Exton had adapted Ludovic Kennedy's book of 10 Rillington Place to a screen.
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Harry Robinson's score is given it's full due here, with a bonus section on the DVD of 30 minutes without any dialogue or effects. Robinson worked on Hammer's Karnstein trilogy, and his score here is geared towards the horror aspects rather than highlighting the comedic.This is due to Network DVD having access to the original negatives and tracks, and will be a feature on several of their upcoming DVDs where possible.
The film is presented in a widescreen (1:75:1) format, plus an option to view it in 4:3 Academy ratio, as it was filmed, which as you would expect, reveals much more information at the top and bottom of the screen, and show Maurice Carter's glorious sets to great effect, and doesn't hurt the composition too much.
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This release is among the first in a new range of British films, some upcoming releases that are of particular interest to myself (and, hopefully, readers of this blog) are Spanish Fly (Leslie Phillips and Terry Thomas), Keep It Up Downstairs (which I reviewed a while back,and look forward to seeing again) and a Blu-ray release for The Man Who Haunted Himself (Roger Moore). For more information, check out the Network DVD website. They also do a great range of TV classics, and I have many of their box sets in my collection.
I must say though, I'm not a big fan of the slimline case, as it brings back the memories of those 99p public domain collections found on market stalls. There's nothing cheap about the presentation, though, although with a new transfer, a Blu-ray would have been nice.
9 out of 10
house in nightmare park dvd cover

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