Murder Mansion (1972)

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AKA: La Mansión De La Niebla
AKA: Maniac Mansion

During a night of thick fog, six people get lost on the same deserted road and take refuge at the only building nearby, a rundown house situated next to an abandoned cemetery. The owner of the house lives in the nearby village, but since the weather makes navigating impossible, she allows them all to spend the night. But when strange things start happening, it doesn’t take long for the group of wayward travelers to realize that they might have been better off taking their chances out in the fog.

Murder_Mansion_2Something tells me this isn’t how he expected the night to end.

Murder Mansion is a combination of murder mystery and ghost story. It’s also a Spanish/Italian co-production, so there are some giallo elements mixed in for good measure, though I would by no means classify it as a giallo film. The movie is your typical low-budget fare with a heavy emphasis on atmosphere which helps to make up for the inexpensive effects. But while it may contain a plot that we’ve all seen before and since, it does have a couple of redeeming qualities.

Murder_Mansion_3Though film composition isn’t necessarily always one of them.

The version I watched was the dubbed iteration. So of course all the lip movements were horribly mismatched as the film was originally in Italian. But thankfully the emotion behind them was not. Unlike some films, the dubbers here did an excellent job of matching what they were saying with what was going on. Which is great, because the acting here is actually very good for a low-budget film. Analía Gadé, who plays Elsa, in particular does a wonderful job. Elsa is one of the three main focuses of the film, and Gadé does a great job of portraying her slow, but steady mental breakdown as the film progresses.

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Murder_Mansion_6Huh. That escalated quickly.

Along with the acting, the atmosphere is likely the film’s greatest strengths. The film uses the fog and intense light and shadow to good effect. A lot of the scenes filmed indoors, especially once the characters make it to the mansion, are dark and dreary, filled with worn walls, little light, and ornate furniture that easily looks like it has several layers of dust on it. It even throws in a crypt and an underground area that looks like an old stone dungeon, so the use of the word gothic would not be an inaccurate descriptor, and the tight corridors help add a sense of claustrophobia. The outside shots, meanwhile, use thick fog and precise lighting in a way to accentuate the gloomy and desolate atmosphere. It’s rather easy to let things like fog get out of hand, but I’ve gotta hand it to the filmmakers for using it to work with the scenes rather than obscure them. 

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But good acting and an excellent eye for ambience do not do not necessarily a memorable film make. For that you also need a memorable plot, and sadly Murder Mansion doesn’t really have one. The film’s plot is about as generic and cliche as a horror movie can get. Cast of characters ranging from the normal to the bafoonish? Check. Everyone lost with no way to contact the outside? Check. Big empty house? Check. Creepy owner? Check. Cemetery next door? Check. People start disappearing one by one? Check. 

You get the idea. 

The plot is basically cobbled together with various bits and pieces of other similar tales. If the creators saw it in another gothic horror, they tried to put it in here. That of course doesn’t mean that the plot isn’t any good, mind you. The plot itself is actually pretty solid, and it even spends a good amount of time letting the viewer get to know the characters and setting up the situations before it heads off into murder town, which shows a great more deal of thought and planning than a lot of other cheap horror/mysteries do. This added time is beneficial, as it helps weave all of the ‘ghost story/murder mystery’ elements together in a fairly believable way… as long as you don’t spend too much time trying to figure out the impossible logistics of trying to get a specific group of people and some added strangers together on the same night to make your murder scheme work. But ignoring that one flaw and all the cliches, but all the twists still manage to be entertaining.

Murder_Mansion_10Okay, if you include this wig, maybe there are two flaws.

As for the effects they’re….well, they’re okay all things considered. Keep in mind that this film was both a low budget affair and filmed before CGI took off. There are small splashes of blood, some semi-gory makeup, and at least one mannequin’s head gets (quickly) burned to a crisp. The version I watched also ended up being the ‘cut’ version. So what is here is quite minimal, but it’s effective enough to get the point across.

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Murder_Mansion_12RIP mannequin head.

A quick word of note. The version I watched was on Amazon, and the quality of that version leaves much to be desired. It looks like their movie was not only based on a VHS tape, but that it was based on a poor quality VHS tape and poorly digitized. There were several sound issues that popped up during my viewing, and the images seemed unnaturally muted in color. Amazon also seems to have ‘stretched’ the aspect ratio, making the already fairly poor picture quality even more unsightly. Correcting my TV’s ratio to 4:3 helped reduce a lot of the more obvious picture issues, but only slightly. I’m also fairly sure this was an edited version of the film, which means most of the blood and all of the nuddity have been taken out. So if you’re interested in watching you might want to try finding a better copy.

Murder_Mansion_13Help! Nobody can see a damn thing!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, Murder Mansion has a story we’ve all seen a hundred times before, and you’re not likely to walk away remembering any one specific character or scene (Beyond maybe that weird flashback where they tried to use a horrible Marry Tyler Moore wig on a 40-year-old actress in an effort to make her look 20 years younger. Seriously, WTF, film?), but it still manages to be an enjoyable experience. The atmosphere is great. The characters are a bit cliche, but varied and entertaining, and the plot moves along at a quick enough pace to keep your interest. All in all it’s a suitable little diversion to add to your horror movie queue, even though you likely won’t remember watching it a week later.

Murder Mansion is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Youtube.

It is also available on DVD.

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Michi

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