I’m sure I must’ve heard of this flick somewhere along the line, but I had no idea what to expect from it. When it turned up on Netflix streaming I figured I’d give it a shot.
A “Chocolate Chip and Pinto Co-Production,” The House on Skull Mountain starts out with a bang, as we see the titular house resting atop the titular Skull Mountain – and who the hell wouldn’t want to live there? Inside, we meet the matriarch of the Christophe family as she’s being given the last rites on her deathbed. She gives a handful of letters to the priest, telling him to mail them. After he splits, she pulls a voodoo doll out of a box, then drops dead.
The voodoo drums kick in and a sort of half-assed Live and Let Die opening credits sequence rolls (minus the kickass Wings song, of course). It was about this time I realized the flick had Blaxploitation leanings, which made me even more enthusiastic. With the credits out of the way, we meet Lorena Christophe as she drives up the road to Skull Mountain. Another car comes up behind her, veering wildly around the road, honking and bumping Lorena’s car. At the wheel is Philippe Wilette (Mike Evans, who played Lionel Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons), clad in an awesome shirt. He nearly runs Lorena off the road. She pulls off to gather her wits and Philippe continues up the road, but sees a floaty subliminal skull and freaks out.
Lorena arrives at the house, which is a great location – massive, surrounded by trees, all brooding and southern. Ol’ lady Christophe’s funeral is underway, and Lorena is a little wigged out by the voodoo stuff everywhere, including broken glass scattered on graves (“to ward off evil spirits,” she’s told) and other crazy things. As the funeral winds down, the maid, Louette, is totally freaked when a voodoo charm atop the old woman’s coffin begins bleeding, then bursts into flames and disappears.
Lorena meets Thomas, the Skull Mountain equivalent of Alfred Pennyworth. He takes her to meet her cousin, who is of course none other than the awesomely be-shirted Philippe, who talks jive and startles Lorena by playing the organ. We learn that ol’ lady Christophe is their great grandmother before Philippe hits on his cousin (“You IS fine!”).
In the kitchen, Louette tells Thomas about the flaming voodoo charm and says the old woman had more power than they dreamed. Thomas tells her “Only the living have power,” but Louette ain’t buyin’ it.
Meanwhile, family member Harriet Johnson is flying in and sees what looks like a big Jawa sitting a few rows ahead of her on the plane. She screams, but when the stewardess runs to her side, the big Jawa is gone.
Back at the house, Philippe (now sporting a wicked pair of black and white checked pants) aggravates a couple crows in their cage. Nearby, a door opens by itself and he goes to investigate. Thomas scares him, but Philippe is quickly distracted by Louette and sneaks up on the maid to pinch her ass. “You ain’t half bad,” he smoothly says.
When Harriet arrives, Philippe says “You dig the scene?” and they all eventually wind up in the living room, where Mr. Ledoux (credited as “Senator Leroy Johnson” – according to imdb, the first African-American to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly since the end of the Reconstruction era) awaits. Ledoux sounds like he’s doing a voice as he reads a letter from ol’ lady Christophe, who warns of many dangers and that the house holds a “treasure beyond price.” Philippe is bent out of shape when he learns that they’ll have to wait for another family member, Dr. Cunningham, to arrive before the will is read.
Afterwards, Thomas calls them to dinner and shows them portraits of the family while spouting a bunch of exposition. Philippe is bored with it all, but when Dr. Cunningham, a beefy white guy played by Victor French (Little House on the Prairie) arrives, Philippe perks up (“You ain’t the right color!”).
After dinner, Philippe asks Cunningham “Who’s the honky in the woodpile” and Cunningham tells him he was an orphan, “literally left on a doorstep.” A thunderstorm kicks up as Cunningham explains that he’s an anthropologist who knows some stuff about voodoo. At that point, the generator goes out and Thomas lights the candles.
As the storm grows more threatening, Philippe peers out at the family graveyard and is again frightened by Thomas. Philippe makes a joke about spooks, then asks Thomas if he really believes in all that voodoo stuff. “I have seen many strange things in this house,” the butler replies.
The voodoo drums fire up again as Lorena sits in her room. She see a skull, then a creepy figure with skeletal hands appears outside her window. Philippe shows up and hits on Lorena again, but Cunningham intervenes and tells him to go to bed.
Elsewhere, Thomas performs a voodoo ritual and the candle next to Philippe’s bed mysteriously blows out. Philippe roams around the house in his boxers until he sees a ghostly image of Lorena beckoning to him, then – voodoo justice!
Everyone is awakened by Philippe’s scream and they find his body at the bottom of the house’s elevator shaft with a voodoo charm lying next to him. The Sheriff shows up and the others tell him pretty much everything that we’ve already seen. The Sheriff doesn’t want any of them leaving until the situation is “cleared up,” so they all go back to bed.
The next day, Cunningham and Lorena talk. Cunningham thinks the old woman brought them there for a reason and that “there’s something else waiting for us in this house.” Outside, Thomas works on the generator and Louette accuses him of being sweet on Lorena.
Cunningham and Lorena decide to drive into Atlanta, but Harriet stays behind. As she sips her coffee, she sees a snake in a glass dome full of flowers and Lorena see the big death-Jawa in the mirror.
In Atlanta, a tender song plays as we enjoy a montage of Cunningham and Lorena playing in an arcade of old coin-operated machines, including weird monkeys, a fortune teller and “The Ice Cream Cavern.” Soon they’re holding hands but another thunderstorm puts an end to their shenanigans.
Back on Skull Mountain, Harriet sees the door to ol’ lady Christophe’s room open by itself and she wanders in. She finds a bunch of voodoo stuff, then a chair starts rocking on its own. As Cunningham and Lorena enter the house, they hear Harriet scream. They find her lying on the floor, a voodoo charm nearby. As they load Harriet into the station wagon and head into town, Thomas smiles slyly. He performs another voodoo ritual and Harriet see the death-Jawa driving the station wagon. Thomas jabs a voodoo doll and Harriet dies.
Lorena has about had enough of it all, but Cunningham wants to go back to the house and solve the mystery of his past. The voodoo drums begin again and the flick goes into full-on voodoo ritual climax, featuring crazy dancers and a machete fight, among other things.
The one-and-only directing credit for Ron Honthaner (who mostly produced a lot of television), The House on Skull Mountain isn’t spectacular, but it’s a fun old creepy-house horror flick that delivers a decent amount of entertainment value – kind of a Blaxploitation House on Haunted Hill (without being as cool as that sounds).
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