The House on Skull Mountain

04/15/2021 06:40

Film: The House on Skull Mountain

Year: 1974

Director: Ron Honthaner

Writer: Mildred Pares

Starring: Victor French, Janee Michelle and Jean Durand



This is a movie that I had never heard of until Duncan selected this for Movie Club Challenge over on the Podcast Under the Stairs. All I knew coming in was that it had a pretty interesting title, was blaxploitation and had to do with voodoo. The synopsis here is murders occur at the southern estate of a voodoo priestess when four relatives gather to hear her will.

We start this movie off Pauline Christophe (Mary J. Todd McKenzie). The priest (Don Devendorf) is giving her last rites. She asks Thomas Pettione (Jean Durand) to bring her letter box and wants the priest to mail off the letters inside. We also see that she is into voodoo once he leaves.

This brings together a group of cousins to this house that is located on a mountain with a skull face on the side. Lorena Christophe (Janee Michelle) has to deal with her jerk of a cousin, Phillippe Wilette (Mike Evans) as he almost runs her off the road. It is high up on a cliff and he is spooked by a skull that he sees that causes him to pull off. They both arrive as the funeral for Pauline is coming to an end. We get an odd scene where a raven drops what we will learn later is a voodoo item on the casket. It starts a fire causing Louette (Ella Woods) to panic and want the casket covered by dirt immediately.

Thomas greets the two cousins, where we get an odd scene where Phillippe is hitting on Lorena. They’re shown to their rooms and informed they have to wait for the others before the will can be read.

The next is Harriet Johnson (Xernona Clayton). She’s on a plane and gets a fright when she sees a hooded figure a few rows up look at her. She screams and draws the attention of everyone. She comes to the house on the mountain. We learn throughout these introductions that despite being cousins, they’ve never met. Through Thomas they learn that Pauline was a descendant of King Henry of Haiti. He led the revolution against the French. He was also involved with voodoo, much like Pauline.

This trio briefly meets Mr. Ledoux (Leroy Johnson), the attorney that will read the will. He tells them that he cannot until Dr. Andrew Cunningham arrives. This annoys Phillippe who is a jerk, where the other two want to get back to their lives, but understand. Andrew does show up that night, but to their shock, he is white. Andrew (Victor French) greets his cousins and gives a bit of his back-story. He’s a doctor of anthropology and teaches in college. Phillippe doesn’t trust him for the color of his skin.

Things take a turn though when we see that someone is doing voodoo rituals. There are skulls throughout the house. There was a warning from the letter read to them that they do have enemies who are now aware of them. The first victim is Phillippe, but none of them are safe. Who is behind this and can they stop it before it is too late?

This movie explores some interesting things for me. The first is that it is combining the older ‘Old Dark House’ film with voodoo. That works for me since this is a blaxploitation take. Voodoo is culturally a Caribbean thing so if you’re going to make this sub-genre into something that is your own, then combing these two is a way to do it. It is something that worked for me.

What I also enjoy here is that this is another more serious take from blaxploitation. I don’t recall what Lorena’s job was, but she seems pretty successful. Phillippe is in the same vein, but I’ll delve more into him shortly. Pauline is descended from royalty and is the most powerful voodoo priestess in the area. She has a butler and maid with Thomas and Louette. The more we learn about Thomas he falls into this. Then finally we have Mr. Ledoux who is an attorney. There is also a black doctor as well.

Something that shocked me was to have the fourth cousin here be Andrew. He is a doctor and the movie is saying that he is a descendant. It feels like they went with the actor French as he had a career already so it could be a name draw. It would make more sense to me to have a black actor who was a bit more lighter skinned for this role in my opinion. I still like French in this movie, but it is a bit of a misstep for me.

Regardless though, I do like the voodoo aspects to this movie. The house is a great setting and even more that there are secret rooms. I think this helps to build the tension. It also works that Andrew is a doctor of anthropology. He was drawn to learning about voodoo for some reason, which we learn is heritage and probably in his DNA. It is even more fitting who the reveal is to be behind things and the reason they are being done.

Since I’ve already went into this a bit, I’ll go into the acting. I’ve already said my piece with French. I don’t necessarily think he fit for what they needed, but his performance was good. I liked Michelle as the damsel in distress that is one of our leads. Durand was good. Evans is interesting as he’s a jerk. I like that he embodies that ‘jive’ type of person, but he’s not a good person. I don’t necessarily think he deserves what he got. Clayton, Woods, McKenzie and the rest of the cast were fine for what was needed.

Taking this next to the effects of the movie, which we don’t get a lot and what we get are cheesy. I’ll take it though. It is the 1970s so there is a bit of charm there. The house is either a miniature or it is a matte painting. My problem is that they don’t do a great job of showing it where it is dark and gloomy, but the characters are seeing it is bathed in sunlight. This is also taking place in Georgia so it is sunnier and warmer. This doesn’t ruin anything, but I noticed. Aside from that, I like what they do with the voodoo. We keep seeing this creepy hooded figure; there are snakes and other things that are associated with voodoo. The house is a great setting on top of this as well.

The last thing I’ll delve into was the soundtrack. For the most part it didn’t really stand out, but I like the drums for the voodoo rituals. At first I was confused about this and where they were coming from. By the end the movie does explain this so I’m on board there. I do think that the voodoo bit we get at the climax runs a bit long and starts to feel like filler, but not enough to ruin it.

So now with that said, this movie explores some interesting things while also being a bit cheesy. I really like combining the ‘Old Dark House’ sub-genre, but making it blaxploitation with voodoo. I thought that the acting is good across the board. The effects we get are solid, but I do have some slight issues with things here and there. It is mostly seeing the house on the mountain from afar. There is also an issue with the casting for me, but not enough to ruin this. Aside from that, this is adding a bit of the whimsical of this sub-genre, while still giving us a movie that is solid. I would rate this as above average overall and worth a viewing if what I said ticks any of your boxes.


My Rating: 6 out of 10