1972’s Murder Mansion (which is also known as Maniac Mansion) is an enjoyable Italian/Spanish co-production. It’s been included in a few dozen Mill Creek box sets and it’s usually advertised as being a zombie film. While I don’t want to give too much away about the film’s twisty plot, I do feel obligated to let our readers know that it is most definitely NOT a zombie film. Instead, it’s an old-fashioned gothic giallo.
Murder Mansion opens with various people separately traveling across the countryside. A few minutes is devoted to allowing us to get to know them and we quickly discover that they are all familiar giallo types. There’s the cold businessman, the lecherous man with the beard and the driving gloves, and, of course, the free-spirited young lovers who have just met. There’s also the emotionally unstable, Elsa (Analia Gade).
When a huge fog rolls in, Elsa is the first of the travelers to find herself stranded outside of a foreboding mansion. She thinks she sees two shadowy figures in the fog — a woman and a hulking man dressed like a chauffeur — pursuing her. As she runs through the fog, she runs into the young lovers, who are also similarly stranded. They decide to seek refuge inside the mansion and … guess what? It turns out that all the other travelers have decided to seek refuge there as well!
Well, it turns out that the mansion is looked after by a housekeeper named Martha (Ida Galli, a.k.a. Evelin Stewart). Martha explains that the former owner of the mansion was killed years ago in an automobile accident, along with her chauffeur. (Hmmm….) Martha also goes on to explain that the village around the mansion is deserted because the villagers became convinced that the woman and her chauffeur were vampires. Martha then invites everyone to spend the night.
As everyone prepares to turn in for the night, they can’t help but notice a few strange things. First off, why is every bedroom decorated with a disturbing painting? And why does the painting of the former, now deceased, owner of the house look so much like Martha?
As you probably already guessed, a mysterious figure soon starts to prowl around the house, killing the travelers one-by-one. Meanwhile, Elsa continues to have her nervous breakdown and soon starts to have flashbacks to some unspeakable acts that were committed by her father…
Murder Mansion is an enjoyable little giallo, one that is full of creepy atmosphere, twisty plot developments, and memorably strange characters. It’s actually a lot of fun to watch as our heroes creep around the mansion and try to put together all of the clues. (It made me want to go out and solve mysteries!) As far as blood, gore, and nudity are concerned, Murder Mansion is actually remarkably tame by the standards of Italian (and, for that matter, Spanish) thrillers, which makes it an appropriate introduction to the genre for people who may not have previously seen a lot of giallo films.
(Trust me. I tried to introduce my aunt to giallo by showing her Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and she made me stop the movie after the double impalement. If I had been smart, I would have started with Murder Mansion and then worked my way up.)
All in all, Murder Mansion is a lot of fun and great Halloween treat!