You have to love the utter shamelessness that was often displayed by the Italian horror directors of the 70s and 80s.
In Italy, both Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 were huge hits. Evil Dead was released under the name Las Casa so, of course, Evil Dead 2 was called La Casa 2.
Now, imagine that you’re Umberto Lenzi, a veteran Italian filmmaker who has directed everything from thrillers to westerns to war movies to gangster dramas. Over the decades, you’ve followed the trends. Whatever genre was popular at the time is the genre that you worked in. It’s now the late 80s and, even though the Italian film industry is in decline, Italian horror movies are still popular enough to make money. So, that’s what you now make. You’ve made cannibal films. You’ve made giallo films. You’ve made zombie films. Now, it’s time to make a haunted house film.
And how do you make sure that people will spend their money to see your haunted house film?
You call it La Casa 3.
Sure, your film has close to nothing to actually do with either one of the Evil Dead films. I mean, there is a deserted house and a scary basement and a message on a tape recorder but otherwise, your film is definitely not a part of the Evil Dead universe. For that matter, your own rather staid directorial style is absolutely nothing like Sam Raimi’s.
Who cares? Just call your movie La Casa 3 and make some of that Evil Dead money for yourself!
Of course, when the film is released in other countries, the name is going to have to be changed. After all, no one outside of Italy knows the significance of La Casa. In some territories, La Casa 3 is actually released under the name Evil Dead 3! However, in the United Sates, it’s known as Ghosthouse.
As for the film itself, it opens with a murder and ends with a lesson about why you should be careful when crossing the street. The film deals with a guy who spends all of his time in his apartment, listening to radio frequencies. He hears someone screaming for help so he drags his girlfriend with him in a search for the source of the scream. When she suggests that maybe it was a prank, he says, “That wouldn’t be ethical!”
Anyway, their search eventually leads them to an abandoned house in New England. If the house looks familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same house that Lucio Fulci used for The House By The Cemetery. It’s a pretty good location, too. Almost all of Ghosthouse’seerie moments are due to the fact that the house is just naturally spooky. Anyway it turns out that the house was the scene of a brutal murder. If you enter the house, you might run into a little girl who is holding a scary clown doll. As quite a few characters discover over the course of this film, the little girl will kill you just as soon as look at you.
As prolific as Umberto Lenzi was, he never really developed a signature style. As opposed to the work of other Italian genre directors — like Dario Argento, Mario and Lamberto Bava, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Anthony Margheriti, and so many others — it’s rare that you ever watch an Umberto Lenzi film and think to yourself, “That is such an Umberto Lenzi moment. Only Umberto Lenzi could have made this film work.” As a result, Lenzi’s filmography tends to be a bit more uneven than the work of some of his contemporaries.
If you accept a film like Nightmare City as being an example of Lenzi at his most memorable and something like The Hitcher In The Dark as being Lenzi at his most forgettable, Ghosthouse is somewhere in the middle, between those two extremes. It has lots of atmosphere and those looking for gore will get what they’re looking for. At the same time, it doesn’t really add up to much beyond random people coming to the house, seeing something weird, and then dying. If you’re a fan of horror that doesn’t demand much from the audience, Ghosthouse is a diverting enough waste of time. If you’re looking for something deeper, I’d suggest rewatching The House By The Cemetery.