Running time: 88 min.
The House Where Evil Dwells is a ghost story, of this you can be sure. There are ghosts in it, and they can appear out of nowhere and flip bowls over and turn off lamps and possess people and make them do all sorts of crazy things, but then they also need to slide a door open in order to leave the house. How scary these ghosts are depends on your own personal feelings toward whiteface make-up and huge crabs growling in Japanese at you.
The story begins in Japan in the year 1840. Masanori shows up at Otami's house for some tea and Japanese harp. Seems innocent enough, right? That is until tea and harp turns into T & A. Otami's husband, Shugoro, happens to come home and see their shadows making out, quietly blows out his lamp and then angrily jumps through the screen, which I believe is the feudal Japan version of kicking in the door. He takes his wife's infidelity pretty badly, as he proceeds to unsheath his sword and cuts off Masanori's arm and then his head, after whiffing pretty badly for a few moments. Then he kills his wife and then himself as we get a murder-suicide.
Jump ahead 140 years later, where Alex (Doug McClure, Humanoids from the Deep) is in Japan and has secured a home for his journalist friend, Ted (Edward Albert, Galaxy of Terror), his wife Laura (Susan George, Enter the Ninja) and their daughter Amy. He tells them that the house costs 47,000 yen a month and HOLY CRAP IS THAT EXPENSIVE! That's only $225 US, however. Oh, well that's much better. He got such a great deal because it's reportedly haunted, which is completely brushed off by the Americans. They settle in to their new home, and on the very first night, Laura has trouble with a lamp that keeps turning itself off. That's not too scary, if you ask me. What might be a little scarier is that Ted wakes up in the middle of the night to find our ghostly Japanese friends staring at him through whiteface makeup. The fact that they were transparent obviously was not ghost-looking enough, I guess. So after our visitors vanish, Ted and Laura decide to have sex to burn off all that ghost-sighting adrenaline, complete with romantic piano music to soften the mood from the horror we have witnessed so far. In the morning, a monk from a nearby temple pays them a visit and warns them about the house. Meanwhile, Laura has found a trinket that was left behind by Otami all those years ago. This leads to our first possession, as Otami's ghost inhabits Laura's body and says horny little things about their friend Alex, which is blown off by Ted as no big deal for some reason. Later on, this possession compels Laura to call Alex to suggest he come by and see them soon. You see where this is going, don't you?
All this possession business is broken up from time to time with the ghosts coming into the kitchen and flipping bowls over and then leaving. How can you go from possessing a body to just tossing someone's rice over? That's like winning the lottery and then taking the pennies from that dish at the store check out. Laura and Alex have begun an affair, while Ted is away on business that involves getting drunk and talking to a woman who has been possessed by Otami. Why is Otami doing all the evil ghost work here anyway? Ted goes to see the monk, who relates to him the legend behind the house, which also includes Otami going to see a witch back in the day, which is where she got the trinket that Laura found. Laura and little Amy go shopping and spend 50,000 yen on kabuki theatre masks and HOLY CRAP THAT IS AN EXPENSIVE INVESTMENT! Well, it's really only around $300 US. That makes it a little better but HOLY CRAP THAT IS A WASTE OF MONEY!
Little Amy doesn't get off the hook either, as she is in the kitchen with her folks and sees this in her soup:
|Waiter! There's a face in my soup!|
Shugoro possesses Ted and forces Amy to drink the damn soup. He literally shoves the bowl down her throat, the poor girl. Later that night, Amy is left with a babysitter when Shugoro and Masanori appear as huge friggin' crabs and they start chasing her while muttering stuff in Japanese at her. I'm not making this up. This scene was probably the funniest one in the entire film. She climbs a tree to get away and they start to climb the tree after her! That would be scary enough for me. Amy falls out of the tree, ends up in the hospital and Ted and Laura decide to send her back to America. At this point, Ted asks the monk to come to the house and help them. This all leads to a final scene where the ghosts use Ted, Laura and Alex to re-enact their own situation, which is supposed to set them free of the house. I'm just assuming that, because it's never really established that this is what they want to accomplish.
Director Kevin Connor (Motel Hell) provided us with a quick pace to this film, as no time was wasted establishing the nature of the ghosts in the house. That was appreciated, because this film could have been slow-moving if handled differently. The scares were rare in this movie, sad to say. There were a couple of gory scenes, but violence does not necessarily beget fright. Several of the scenes involving the ghosts were silly, but silly enough to make you laugh. The American actors had some pretty bad dialogue to work with and Susan George's bug-eyed look in a couple of scenes also emitted a few chuckles. The plot itself could work for a true horror film, but this almost took a turn toward comedy.
Ultimately, if you're a serious horror enthusiast, this film will not work for you because it's too silly to be scary. If you're just a fan of bad movies, in general, then I recommend you check this one out because there is quite a bit here to enjoy.