By the late ’80s, horror was pretty much done with slashers for a while. Jason and his pals were seeing diminishing returns at the box office, and most of the splattery goods being sold delved into creatures, bugs, or the supernatural. But no one told that to the makers of The House on Tombstone Hill (1989), who decided to revive stalk and slash to dance with the undead for a super gory and entertaining flick, brought back to Blu-ray life in pristine glory by Vinegar Syndrome.
If that title sounds unfamiliar, perhaps you know the film as The Dead Come Home. No? Well, then you may have heard the title Dead Dudes in the House, bestowed by Troma, who picked it up for home video distribution, slapped on a House Party font and a group of white hip-hoppers on the cover who have nothing to do with the film. But Troma’s gonna Troma; while the film does have some comedic elements, I promise there is no dancing or Kid ‘n Play (although I’d pay to see that movie). Whatever you decide to call it (and on the Blu-ray it’s The Dead Come Home), there’s enough fun inside the house to come a knockin’.
The story goes something like this: we open in 1948, with the camera pulling back on a living room. A daughter sits in a chair as her withered mother (Abigail, as we’ll soon find out) stands over a freshly stabbed body. Cut to 40 years later, and a group of friends arrive at the same house. Mark (Douglas Gibson – Midnight Mass) has picked up the dilapidated manor for a steal, and the crew are with him to help whip it into shape. Things start off very poorly for the troop as one of them decides to take a sledgehammer to Abigail’s garden tombstone, waking her from her eternal slumber. Home renovation quickly turns to decapitation, dismemberment, and a harsh disregard for power tool safety.
And that’s it, basically; The House on Tombstone Hill has no time for contrivances like plot or character development. Actually, that’s not completely true; the amount of gabbing in the first 20 minutes wears thin pretty fast, as the gang mostly argues about tools, beer, and who’s in charge. Once Abigail makes herself known to the reno team, though, the action picks up considerably with a series of creative deaths that belies the minuscule budget and highlights the ingenuity of effects gurus Ed French (Creepshow 2) and Bruce Spaulding Fuller (Avengers: Infinity War). Blood does flow, limbs do fly, and heads do roll. The guys get messy in ways that mere stabbing can’t affect.
Which is why the supernatural element works well; it allows the effects to be a little more fantastical, and in a twist, anyone killed comes back from the dead to help Abigail out. With so little story to work with, first-time writer/director James Riffel (Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Terror) essentially makes it one gruesome video game where the killer can tag back in victims to join in the slaughter.
As fun as the kills are, it does become a little repetitious towards the end. With no arc to the tale or any lore to cling to (Abigail is just pissed off, I guess), The House on Tombstone Hill pulls through with enthusiasm, top-notch inventive cinematography from Mark Petersson (American Saint), and some glorious mayhem to wade through. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Now, this could have come out on a bare-bones release and people would still appreciate its goofy charms, but this is Vinegar Syndrome, and they always send their baby Blus into the world with the utmost care and love. The new 2K scan from the 16mm negative is terrific; only the hairstyles and wardrobe will give away the time period—that, and perhaps the lack of post/meta cynicism so prevalent now. In addition to a stills gallery, there is a 29-minute piece entitled Three Dead Dudes, in which actors Mark Zobian, Victor Verhaeghe, and Douglas Gibson fondly reminisce about how they came aboard the project, and the challenges of starting out in the biz. (Kudos to Gibson, who unbeknownst to me also played the role of cackling and decrepit Abigail under quite effective makeup.) And for those curious about auteur James Riffel’s career, they offer a 42-minute audio interview that covers the origins (and struggles) of getting this film made.
There is definite talent on display in The House on Tombstone Hill; the gore is bountiful and its spirit is infectious. Low budget doesn’t mean lack of invention, only resources. Once again, Vinegar Syndrome uses theirs to rescue a film worthy of another look, no matter what you call it. May I suggest Dead Dudes on Tombstone Hill Come Home?
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 4/5