Before I say anything else about 1974’s The House on Skull Mountain, I just want to say how much I love the film’s poster. Seriously, that poster is everything that you could hope for from an exploitation film print ad. Everything about it, from the lightning to the giant skull to the mansion to the unfortunate person plunging to her doom is pure perfection. I especially like the question at the bottom of the poster: “Which of these five will come down alive?”
And, to be honest, it’s actually a fairly honest poster. The majority of the film really does take place in a house on a mountain that has features that look like a skull. Of course, the skull in the movie is not quite as prominent as the one in the poster. The house actually does look a lot like the one on the poster. There’s also a lot of lightning in the movie. It’s the same basic lightning stock footage that has appeared in almost every film ever produced by Roger Corman. In The House on Skull Mountain, it’s used as a transitional device. “Is that scene over?” you might find yourself wondering. Well, don’t worry. The lightning stock footage will let you know.
One reason that I’m focusing on the poster is because the film itself is kind of anemic. In the movie, the house on top of Skull Mountains belongs to Pauline Christophe, a direct descendant of the first king of Haiti. Upon her death, Pauline’s four great granchildren are invited to hear the reading of her will. None of the four have ever met Pauline or each other. Phillippe (Mike Evans) is an alcoholic who says stuff like, “Baby, what’s the scene?” Harriet (Xernona Clayton) is fragile and nervous and it certainly doesn’t help her nerves when she briefly sees a hooded skeleton sitting a few rows in front of her on her flight to Atlanta. Lorena (Janee Michelle) drives too fast but is otherwise responsible and mature. And then there’s Dr. Andrew Cunningham (Victor French), who shows up late and turns out to be white.
“You’re the wrong color!” Phillippe snaps at him.
Andrew shrugs and says that he’ll explain it all later. He does eventually tell a story about being abandoned on the front steps of an orphanage but the dialogue is so awkwardly-written and delivered that I’m not sure if he is being serious or if he is poking fun at Phillippe’s shock.
Because Andrew showed up late, the four of them have to stay in the house for a week until Pauline’s lawyer returns to read the will. Keeping them company is the butler, Thomas (Jean Durand), and Loutte (Ella Woods) the maid.
And that’s not all! It also appears that there is a robed skeleton wandering around the house as well! Add to that, the relatives start having visions. One falls down an elevator shaft. Another has a heart attack after someone stabs doll with a pin. Could all of this have something to do with the fact that Pauline and her servants were all dedicated practitioners of voodoo?
Sad to say but the House on Skull Mountain is pretty dull. The film does provide a brief history lesson concerning how Haiti was the only nation to be formed as a result of a slave rebellion and how the real-life Henri Christophe went from being a slave to a king but the film doesn’t really do much with the information. It’s tempting to look for some sort of subtext in the film’s plot but it’s really just not there. Much like Andrew being the only white member of a historically important black family, the history of Haiti and the actual origins of Haitian voodoo are elements that are brought up and then quickly abandoned. There is one good and lengthy voodoo ceremony but otherwise, the whole film is almost all filler. When it’s not showing us the same lighting stock footage, it’s showing us Andrew and Lorena wandering around Atlanta.
But seriously, that movie poster is to die for.