Friday, March 8, 2013


If you spend enough time digging through old horror films, mining for cinema gold, you'll eventually get to this piece of dusty old cobblestone.  Celebrating its 30th year of release, Mausoleum (1983) is a supernatural demonic possession horror flick, and while not necessarily a "good" movie, it does have its moments.

The story starts with young Susan at her mother's funeral.  She's with her Aunt Cora who can't seem to comfort Susan, and she eventually takes off running into the cemetery.  There, she's drawn to an old spooky mausoleum, and inside she has an encounter with a hooded figure.  Randomly, a vagrant stumbles in and upon locking eyes with the hooded one, runs outside screaming and holding his head before his skull partially explodes.  Back inside, Susan's eyes glow green and the hooded figure is revealed to have claw-like hands...

Flash-forward: after years of being under the care of her therapist Dr. Simon Andrews (Norman Burton), Susan is a well adjusted 30 year old woman (played by ex-Playboy bunny, Bobbie Bresee) and heiress to the family fortune, living with her lawyer husband Oliver (Marjoe Gortner) in their mansion-like house.  Unfortunately, it seems the women in her family suffer from a very particular curse, one that makes them susceptible to demonic possession.  Her encounter with the demon years ago finally starts to manifest itself, as Susan starts acting strange, gets a case of the glowing-green eyes, and becomes a lusty kill monster.

First, she blows up a guy's car (with him in it) outside of a nightclub.  He was being a jerk inside, and Susan stares at his car intensely until her eyes glow and a fire starts inside the car.  Oliver tries to help, but is useless, a pattern he keeps for most of the movie.  Next, Susan seduces Ben, the leering gardner, but not before we get a pleasant montage of what Ben's work day is like (chopping stumps, mowing the lawn, taking a break, etc).  She then invites him to accompany her to the garage for some sex and afterwards she gets all demonic and stabs him with a hand-rake.  Later, when Oliver comes home she has sex with him too.  (The lustiness of this demon reminds me of Abby (1974), another possession flick).

Continuing her kill spree, Susan attacks her visiting Aunt Cora by levitating her off the ground and telekinetically ripping her flesh and chest open.  It's kind of a cool scene, but unfortunately you can totally see the mechanism that was used to suspend the actress in the air.

Oliver senses that something is different with Susan, but all of these incidents go unnoticed.  Their housemaid Elsie (LaWanda Page) might be the only sensible person in the movie, as she first notices that "there's some strange shit going on in this house."  After catching a glimpse of Susan's foggy and creepy bedroom, she hightails it out of there, quipping "No more grievin', I'm leavin'!"  

During a visit with Dr. Simon, Susan goes under hypnosis, where the demon reveals itself to him, claiming to be named Gomez.  Susan remembers none of this and Simon lets her leave to go about her day, thinking that this "demon possession" is just some sort of repression that has manifested itself somehow.  It's only later that, after conferring with colleagues (and after Susan kills a few more people) that he comes to believe in the curse that has befallen Susan, and does he comes up with a method (using a crown of thorns) to stop the demon and (hopefully) save her life.

Mausoleum is without a doubt a subpar movie, but it is not without its charms.  Its disjointed narrative and odd dialogue add a certain delirium to the story.  Maybe if the film was poorly overdubbed it might have helped?  (It certainly wouldn't have hurt Bresee's performance).  At times it feels like an American version of a Euro-horror film, but one lacking in any direction or style.  The lighting has a lot of strong contrast and colors (reds and greens), bringing to mind the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava (and making you wish you were watching one of those instead).

Susan's demonic possession manifests itself in different stages.  First it's just green eyes, then claw hands and nasty face, then towards the end she turns full demon.  The make-up effects for the full demon are more than noteworthy, especially for the monster breasts (I don't mean size, I mean they are little snapping monster mouth demons on her chest, and yes, it's as crazy looking as it sounds), which seem to be this movie's calling card.  Overall, the effects are pretty good and gruesome, without a doubt the best thing in the movie.

Make-up and special effects maestro John Carl Buechler would provide the magic for Stuart Gordon's From Beyond (1986) and Dolls (1987), Renny Harlin's Prison and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master (both 1988), as well as Eliminators (1986), TerrorVision (1986), Halloween 4: Return of Michael Myers (1988), and Carnosaur (1993).  He would also direct and do special effects for Troll (1986) and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (1988).  He also did uncredited work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), on the animatronic melting head effect that freaked me out as a kid.

This is Bobbie Bresee's first feature film, and she isn't very convincing as either a possessed woman (see above) or a rich, affluent housewife.  Her stilted line readings just fill the time between nude scenes.  Her "talents" can also be seen in Ghoulies (1985) and Surf Nazis Must Die (1987).

LaWanda Page is best known as Aunt Esther Anderson on television's Sanford & Son and its subsequent spinoffs.  Her portrayal of Elsie the housemaid is obviously for comic relief, but she lands somewhere between clichéd and racial stereotype.  Norman Burton would have a long and varied career in Hollywood as a supporting player and he gives probably the most credible performance in Mausoleum.  Most interestingly (and iconically) he's credited as playing the "Hunt Leader" in the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes (1968).  He's also appeared in movies I've seen, like Bloodsport and Dead Space (both 1988), and movies I plan on seeing, like Simon, King of the Witches (1971), The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), and Fade to Black (1980).

Marjoe Gortner is an interesting guy.  He started life as the "youngest ordained minister" (at 4 years old) and became a "miracle child," traveling the country and preaching the gospel to people at revivals and whatnot.  Later he became disillusioned with the preaching business and would start a career in music and in acting.  He would star in Earthquake (1974), Food of the Gods (1976), and Starcrash (1978), and is the subject of a great documentary called Marjoe (1972).  In Mausoleum, his natural charisma seems to be stifled by the the awful script, although he does seem to have fun during the sex scenes.

Death Hug
Uninspired director Michael Dugan has two other films to his credit, a family film called Super Seal (1976) and teen sex comedy Raging Hormones (1999).  One of the writers of Mausoleum (Robert Barich) was also the cinematographer.  He would go on to a career in neither.

Composer Jamie Mendoza-Nava would have a long career in genre films, working with filmmakers like John Hayes (Dream No Evil [1970], Garden of the Dead [1972], Grave of the Vampire [1972]) and Charles B. Pierce (Legend of Boggy Creek [1972], Town that Dreaded Sundown [1976], The Evictors [1979]).

It's not often I'll talk about the art direction, but Robert A. Burns gets special mention always, as he's the guy responsible for scattering bones around the sets on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977).  He would also art direct other classics like Tourist Trap (1979) The Howling (1981), and Re-Animator (1985), as well as lesser classics like Disco Godfather (1979), Full Moon High (1981), Blood Song (1982), and Microwave Massacre (1983).  His work on Mausoleum goes a long way in setting the mood in the creepy titular location, as well as in Susan's bedroom, with her macabre display of victims.  Also, by all accounts and based on the interviews I've seen, Robert Burns was a great guy.  RIP, buddy.

Final Thought:  Mausoleum is at times a fairly stupid movie.  For example, Susan's maiden name is Nomed, which is a stupid last name, until you realize that in reverse it says "Demon," which makes it a really fucking stupid last name.  (It's like naming a town full of goblins "Nilbog.")  Despite that and other stupidness, there's still some moderate fun to be had at the Mausoleum.  (results may vary)

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