This House Possessed

With Halloween coming up, a look back at one of the most memorable bad horror TV-movies...
October 05, 2006

The title says it all!

Being a retro-junkie, there have been plenty of things that have traumatized me over the years (Hammer Pants, Monchichis, Freddy Krueger... you name it). But the first thing that I remember that truly traumatized me was a little TV-movie that I saw in 1981 titled THIS HOUSE POSSESSED. Looking at the page on imdb, it's obvious that I wasn't alone.25 years later, it's schlock now, but I can see why it was so devastating to me as a child. With Halloween around the corner, I figured it was time to re-examine it....

They're not as innocent as they look...
The film opens with two supposed teenagers jumping the fence to a mansion and exclaiming that this'd be the perfect place to "play house." Funny, I thought that sort of behaviour was called "playing doctor," but that's beside the point. Once the two realize that they can't get inside of the house, they decide to do the next best thing -- make out in the grass. Anyone's who's ever seen a horror movie knows that that's the wrong move.

That can't be good
Inside of the house, the closed circuit surveillance system jumps to life and begins to plot revenge. Slinking through the grass, it quickly sneaks up on them. No, it's not a snake. It's something far more frightening: a water hose! I suppose the house thinks that they need to cool off, and the way that they're going at it, I'm inclined to agree.

It's only okay to get wet when we're speaking of bodily fluids...
As the water begins to gush, the girl begins to scream as though she's being sliced by Freddy... though it'd be another three years before that happened (the girl is Amanda Wyss aka Tina Gray, Freddy Krueger's first on-screen victim). Predictably, instead of turning off the water, the two lovers freak out, run away, and are never heard from again.

He thinks he's one of the brothers Gibb
Back inside the house, the TV's on, and we finally see one of the stars of the film, Kirstie Alley's ex, Mr. "Big One" former Hardy Boy, Parker Stevenson. Parker's playing a very cliched pop singer named Gary Straihorn -- complete with the patented open shirt, feathered hair, and schmaltzy love songs. As he redundantly sings, "I kept believing in you," we leave the house and go to where he's lipsynching live. But his act's about to be cut short. What's funny here is that the performance isn't being televised.

Oh, I see, he's playing ANDY Gibb!
As he begins his next song, "Sensitive You're Not," the film cuts back and forth from the studio to the house's point of view on the TV, and Gary suddenly collapses. Nope, it's not a drug overdose -- they make it monotonously clear throughout the film that Gary won't touch drugs. The official verdict is that he collapsed from "total physical exhaustion, maybe with some mental fatigue thrown in." But we, the viewers, know that the house had something to do with it...

Speaking of playing doctor...
Gary wakes up from a nightmare in the hospital and a nurse rushes in. But wait a minute, who's that nurse? That can't be Lisa Eilbacher (Callie Shaw from "The Hardy Boys") playing Nurse Sheila Moore. Wait a minute, it is! Why is there a "Hardy Boys" reunion in a horror movie?!

The film slips into a lull here, so we'll condense and skip ahead. Gary's self-proclaimed girlfriend Tanya arrives and demands to see him, but Nurse Sheila refuses her admittance. Soon it's obvious that Gary and Sheila are falling for each other, but instead of acknowledging that, he hires her as his private nurse when he gets out of the hospital. Guess he wants a sponge bath in the privacy of his own home. And speaking of homes...

Every step you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you
Gary doesn't own a home, so he and Sheila snag a realtor and the first house that they look at is a remote mansion in Santa Fe. Yep, you guessed it. After the realtor reveals that "all the windows are made of unbreakable glass" (no, that's not exposition or anything), Gary buys the house on the spot -- after all, he's a pop star with money to spare.

If only she had a Serta Perfect SleeperĀ®
Soon Sheila is awakened to the sound of a voice calling, "Margaret." She gets up and wanders the grounds in her nightie. She keeps hearing the voice calling but can't identify the source.

What the hell?!
The next morning, before she sets off, Sheila goes to turn off the air conditioner. As she leaves the control room, the monitors spring to life again, this time filled with images of a little girl.

If ever there was a candidate for an extreme makeover...
Sheila arrives in town to pick up Gary's prescription and is confronted by a bag lady who calls her "Margaret." "You shouldn't have come!" the lady announces before abruptly turning and walking away. Why is there always some old, crazy person in these types of films?

Looking as though she stepped off the set of Dynasty...
Another lull as the romance between Sheila and Gary continues. Soon, however, they're interrupted by the intrusion of Tanya (familiar '70s model Shelley Smith). Tanya makes it quite clear that she has designs on Gary, but Gary stresses that he only wants her friendship. Yeah, right. However, Tanya's visit is about to be short-lived anyway, so her plans are irrelevant.

Another cliched horror movie character...
It's obvious that Sheila is peeved and jealous, so she goes to the library, where she meets Lucille (TV vet K. Callan), the obligitory nosy librarian. Lucille informs her that there were some deaths in the house -- and that the bag lady is nicknamed "The Rag Lady," and she's the town eccentric. Lucille says that she doesn't know too much of the house's history, but she'll research it in old town newspapers and get back to Sheila.

Hey, I think I saw this footage on some spycam site!
Tanya heads off for her soft-core shower scene, not knowing that the house is watching... Since we're in the midst of a horror movie, we have to have a shower scene to rival the one in PSYCHO.

Don't people usually take showers to wash the blood off?!
Yes, the shower seems to have gone menstrual on poor Tanya, and it's such a traumatic experience for her that she abruptly leaves. Gary just assumes that it was pill-induced hallucination...

Seeing this bloody shower, CARRIE looks tame
But since we don't see her again, I have some speculation. If you're taking a shower and are suddenly splattered with blood from the nozzle, are you going to take another shower to wash off or get the hell out of the house still covered in blood? Logic tells me that it would be the latter, so wouldn't Gary have seen the blood on her?

Before too long, Sheila and Gary finally have an intimate moment, followed by copulation. But before the big act, Sheila reveals that she has no memory of the first seven years of her life. She was found wandering the streets in a daze and, when her family couldn't be traced, stuck in foster care. Nothing like good pre-sex conversation.

Frank Hardy slips Callie Shaw the big one...
The lovers' post-coital bliss is interrupted by a phone call from librarian Lucille. Seems that she's found some documentation on the history of the house, and she'll be arriving momentarily to drop them off... and "get another look at the house." Little does she know that it'll be a last look.

Delivering a crushing blow...
When Lucille arrives, Sheila hits the button to open the gates, then heads out with Gary to meet her. As Lucille starts to pull forward, the gates come crashing shut, squashing the sides of her car.

It was 1981. We couldn't have a film without a car explosion.
Gary's attempts to disable the gate are in vain, and it continues to crush the car until it bursts into flames.

What's the guy from all the old westerns doing in this film?!
The next day, after the smoke has cleared and cops have left, Gary's manager Arthur (Slim Pickens) arrives and solicits Gary for a three month concert tour in Europe. Gary refuses to go without Sheila, so Arthur gives them a night to think it over. In the meantime, Arthur spies a broken mirror, so he offers to take it and get it fitted with a new sheet of glass...

Is that one of them there funhouse mirrors?
As soon as Arthur gets home and uncovers the mirror, it shatters into shards that impail him. One would think that such an "accident" would merely cause a lot of cuts, but not in this film. At Arthur's funeral, Gary refuses to believe the official cause of death -- Arthur was drunk and fell into the mirror. He figures that Sheila must have a jealous former lover who's offing people. Instead of investigating that, they go to look at the official papers for the house.

Who the hell is Margaret?
Yes, it seems that Gary's name is on the original blueprints -- of a house that was constructed 30 years prior -- next to the name Margaret. "But who's Margaret?"

Cheap dinner napkins are a wonderful substitute for paper!
Instead of trying to figure that out, they go home and Gary goes to bed. Sheila hears the Rag Lady, whom she had summoned with a note. "I didn't want to come," the Rag Lady tells her. "Thought if I didn't say anything and you stayed here, nothing would happen. But I was wrong."

Are you my Mommy?
As the Rag Lady unfolds her tale, the temperature gage in the nearby pool rapidly climbs. Again, logic would tell me that either the Rag Lady or Sheila would notice the bubbling that results from boiling water. Seems that Sheila was "Christened Margaret Allen." Her father was an architect who'd built the house for her and her mother, and the Rag Lady was her nurse. But when the family decided to relocate, "the house couldn't stand the thought of you leaving, so it decided to kill the people who were taking you away." Yes, illogical as it seems, this is not a ghost story, but a story about a living house.

Stunt double!
"The house loves you," says the Rag Lady. "It'll never let you go." Unfortunately, the Rag Lady isn't quite as loved. As soon as she finishes spouting off her story, a gust of wind appears from nowhere and knocks her into the scalding pool, where she quickly meets her demise. Cue commercial as Sheila/Margaret faints.

"Damn storm-proof windows!"
When Sheila awakens and realizes what happened, she wakes Gary and the two try to flee. After realizing that the doors are locked, Gary tries to break through the windows. Apparently, he forgot what the realtor said about the glass. The couple fumble through the house for a few minutes as doors lock, the heater and AC go crazy, the ceiling crashes in, and the security cameras look on. "It would kill me before it would let me go," Sheila cries.

We don't need no water, let the motherf@*^&$ burn...
When they've exhausted all other options for escape, Gary gets a radical idea. He takes the clothes in the laundry room, piles them in front of the door, and sets them on fire. In a better movie, the sprinkler system would've come on at this point. As the fire begins to burn a hole through the doorway, he douses himself and Sheila with water from the sink and they break on through to the other side.

It's Wonder Woman's magical lasso!
Once outside, they're almost out of the driveway when the gates come crashing shut again. One would think that the gates would no longer be functional after crushing Lucille, but anyway... "Damn you!" Sheila screams at the house. An instant later, a cord of metal tubing flies out of the wall next to the gate and lassos Gary, then retracts, thunking him against the wall. As Gary takes the beating of his life, Sheila pleads with the burning house. "If you love me, you'd let him go -- you'd let me go!" The cord retracts, rolling Gary across the ground as it releases him. The gates fly open and the lovers embrace in front of the burning mansion.

Give me a happy ending every time...
And now we have the obligatory sappy -- I mean happy ending. Roll credits.

As a kid, this film really freaked me out. I was scared to take a shower, for fear that I'd get splattered with blood. I was scared to look in a mirror, fearing it'd shatter and kill me (WATCHER IN THE WOODS later gave me other reasons to fear mirrors). I was afraid of being crushed to death by electronic gates (which I saw happen again in STRANGE BREW). I was frightened that a house would try to hold me hostage... I'm not certain if I was just a wuss (I suspect that's my answer) or if it was just a more innocent time. A decade passed before I saw the film again and learned the title. By that time, I was a full-fledged horror junkie, and I was astounded at how stupid this film is. That said, it still holds a special place in my heart since it once scared the living hell out of me!
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