Some films don’t announce themselves to you right away; occasionally one simply doesn’t register for many possible reasons – bad mood, wrong time, etc. So every now and then I’ll re-watch a film in the hope that I missed something the first time around. This brings us to this week’s Dust Off: Mausoleum (1983), a possession film so filled with goofy charm and goopy effects that I must have been comatose when I first witnessed it. Better late than never, right?
Mausoleum was released in the States in May; the 1998 Blockbuster Entertainment Guide gave it one star out of five and said it was “schlocky and silly.” Why, yes, yes it is; but for those on the lookout for some unassuming demonic dreck, are these not part of our criteria? I say to you all, yay and verily, that Mausoleum has more than enough entertainment value, and some surprisingly solid technical polish to boot. Take that, Blockbuster.
Let’s start in the past; little ten-year-old Susan is at the funeral of her mother, when she is beckoned by the family tomb – all the women are part of the Nomed family – and the curse is put upon her: the first born female of every generation is to be cursed by a demon. One very, very horny demon.
Fast forward twenty or so years, and Susan (Bobbie Bresee -- Ghoulies) lives in a lavish estate with a gardener and a maid (played by LaWanda Page from TV’s Sanford & Son) and the non-stop affection of her loving but frequently absent husband, Oliver (The great Marjoe Gortner). After a visit to her mother’s grave, Susan is drawn to the Nomed tomb, and before you know it, her eyes are glowing green and she’s popping the skull off of a nice groundskeeper’s head. Quite rude, if you ask me.
Susan’s longtime psychiatrist Simon (Norman Burton -- Diamonds Are Forever) has noticed her being off, especially when he tries hypnosis and her demon comes roaring to the surface once she’s under. (Plus, you don’t have to show flashback footage during hypnosis; good for the producers’ wallets.) Everyone around Susan is dying; either through succubus seduction or… well, she usually likes to work sans attire, so that’s pretty much it. Can Simon stop Susan in time, and break the curse?
Mausoleum has been on my radar for more than 30 years, and I finally watched it a few years back, and was underwhelmed. I didn’t hate it, to be sure; I just found it silly and uninteresting. Turns out I was the silly one.
Now, I won’t lather up Mausoleum with too much praise, because I think we’re all rational adults here; the performances are uneven, it’s episodic, blah, blah, blah. But -- and it’s a big but (I cannot lie) -- it never tries to bite off more than it can chew; it has a modesty to its Sturm Und Drang -- no angels to intercept, no skybound battle between dark and light forces -- that lowers the viewer’s expectations to a comfortable level.
And it’s a good place to nestle, for here you will find: that aforementioned brain blast, horrific horticulture, one fiery car calamity, intestinal Instagram pics, and, last but not least, a pair of biting, malicious, mammaries. Yes, that’s correct.
So clearly the NyQuil I was taking at the time (I can only assume) rendered me unimpressed with its charms; no worries though, because movies will always give you another chance to appreciate something you didn’t quite catch the first time around. And I really do think that the film’s mixture of laid-back haunts and OTT gore works well enough to induce smiles in those people shopping in the “unassuming yet fun” aisle of their imaginary video store.
Film school points for featuring swooping and swishing Panaglide shots, like the thrilling roller coaster of “going to the front door” or “walking down the hallway”; egregious crane shots make an appearance throughout, letting us know our demon likes to fly around, I suppose.
Which I’ve said I found interesting, because the story is so earthbound; at least they’re trying to throw a little “art” on their screen, even if it does show up the paucity of the tale. Having said that, I certainly don’t need a Father Karras on hand to offer up yet another pious authority figure to battle evil; I’m more inclined to believe in a psychiatrist than a priest (sorry, I should say “just” a psychiatrist), and Mausoleum delivers one taciturn shrink. No mention of upstairs with the pearly gates and the “naughty or nice” list, so sanctimony and sin isn’t linked to Susan’s condition; she’s just a horny little devil.
Bresee has some traumatic moments as Susan that play pretty true, and she’s certainly livelier than Gortner, who displays little of his sleazeball ‘70s drive-in charisma. (Not really his fault… he’s a nice guy here. Boo.) Oh well. If you’re looking at the performances, the balance between somnambulance and hambonery can be found as LaWanda Page sees Susan in a swirl of green fog and grotesque makeup (courtesy of the late legend John Carl Buechler), turns around and says, “No more grievin’, I’m leavin’!” and hits the bricks. A solid move by LaWanda, and thanks to director Michael Dugan, writers Robert Barich, Robert Madero, Katherine Rosenwink, et al for tossing a moment of common sense amidst a whirlwind of Mario Bava aesthetics and Ed Wood dramatics.
If I were pitching a tagline for Mausoleum, I’d say something along the lines of:
“Come for Dan Haggerty’s stunt double, stay for the masticating mammaries. Did I mention the stunt double?”
Okay, so clearly I’m not made for advertising, but is it any worse than naming your family Nomed?
Mausoleum is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS (1971)