Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

(aka Massacre Mansion, The Terror of Dr. Chaney, Eyes, Eyes of Dr. Chaney, House of Blood)

It’s always interesting to see where people started out.

This was prolific producer and director Charles Band‘s first horror film.  In fact, it was only his second film, with the first a parody porno film ripping off Brando’s Last Tango in Paris (the obsessive completists out there will no doubt be relieved to learn that it is lost).

Those of you who have watched a lot of classic horror and suspense films may find this one just a bit…familiar.  A famous and highly respected doctor has an auto accident which leaves his daughter blind.  He blames himself and obsessively seeks some way to restore her sight.

After a bit of research, he finds the solution — transplanting new eyes — and he rounds up a collection of unwilling donors.

But don’t worry, he plans to eventually cure them as well, so he has them all locked in his basement.   Attempt after attempt fails for one reason or another, his daughter’s face gets covered with scars, while the number of his caged victims grows…

Mansion of the Doomed is a fairly obvious twist on Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (a face without eyes?) and Charles Band really didn’t mind if you noticed.

It isn’t as good a film, but then, Eyes Without a Face is a classic and no one really expected that of it.  It’s a fairly modest sort of enterprise without much of a budget, although we do get a bit of gore.

Actually, quite a bit for a mid-Seventies film, before the Eighties horror boom, and it was confiscated as a video nasty in the UK.

Perhaps the oddest detail is that Richard Basehart plays the increasingly mad scientist, in a very low-key sort of way.  It was only Eight years since his final tour on the Seaview in Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series, and far from the scenery chewing monster we might expect, he is more like a respected doctor.  It is also interesting to note that he is “Dr. Chaney,” although his first name is Leonard rather than “Lon.”

His far too loyal assistant is played by Gloria Grahame near the end of her long career, while a very young Lance Henricksen shows up as the daughter’s boyfriend.

Some of the film is a bit disturbing, particularly the scene in which Dr. Chaney stalks a young girl, believing that he might have better luck with younger donors.

However, I find it more interesting that the mansion is only a short distance from a busy street in a suburban sort of neighborhood.  Yeah, there are a few trees around the place, but it hardly fits our usual picture of a spooky mad scientist’s lair.

And yet, in a film which takes place in fairly ordinary settings — classrooms, a suburban house, ordinary neighborhoods and streets, and a basement — there is also a dramatically-lit scene of a burial, with fog rolling in from behind, and shot in a very classic horror film sort of way.

Don’t ask me how it got there.  It looks totally out of place.

And quite good, at the same time.

For those familiar with Charles Band’s later films — at Full Moon, Empire and the few before that — it’s not hard to see hints of many of the familiar elements which would distinguish his films, from the disturbing make-up effects to the borrowed plot points.

I’m not sure Mansion of the Doomed is one of his better films (which is a strange thing to say about a man who made a career out of creating lots of Grade Z movies), but it is an interesting first effort which has enough thrills and horror to make it of more than just historical interest.

Like so many of his films, it is now up on Tubi and is worth a look if you love B Horror movies.

(Watch for Free on Tubi)

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