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The House That Would Not Die (1970)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/8/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/15/2019
Over the years, horror movie trends have come and gone and come back (from the dead) again. Slashers, zombie, vampires, and werewolves, just to name a few, have suddenly invaded cinema and home video platforms, only to retreat just as quickly. However, one sub-genre which endures is the haunted house film. While we rarely get classic examples of the genre, such as Poltergeist or The Haunting, these forms are prolific and one doesn't have to look very hard to find an example. And when one drills down into these films, it becomes clear that some are very open with the portrayal of the hauntings, while others skew much more subtle. The 1970 entry The House That Would Not Die shows that too much subtlety can be fatal.
As The House That Would Not Die opens, Ruth Bennett (Barbara Stanwyck) arrives in the old house which she has inherited. With her niece, Sara Dunning (Katherine Winn), in tow, Ruth is very excited about fixing up the old mansion. Ruth and Sara immediately meet their neighbor, Pat McDougal (Richard Egan), a college professor, and he's soon introducing them to one of his students, Stan Whitman (Michael Anderson, Jr.), who is close in age to Sara. While the two women are settling into their new home, some strange things begin to happen. Ruth hears a voice in the garden which seems to be calling someone. Sara displays unusual behavior and suddenly knows things about the house. Determined to stay in the house, Ruth agrees to have a séance, while the group also begins to research the history of the structure. This only leads to more bizarre events. Will they be able to stay in the house?
Today, when we think about made-for-TV movies, we think of the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. (Seriously, what is up with all of those Christmas movies?) However, in the 70s and 80s, made-for-TV movies were a very familiar part of the landscape. Keep in mind, much of this time was before the home-video revolution, so these television productions offered viewers another entertainment option. Many of them featured well-known actors and a good portion attempted to mimic theatrical movies. (And some of them were actually pretty good.) The House That Would Not Die meets those criteria, as it features sliver-screen legend Barbara Stanwyck and there are certainly parts which bear a similarity to some more famous haunted house movies.
However, The House That Would Not Die also suffers from another common feature of made-for-TV movies -- it's too bland for its own good. Remember, this movie was aired on TV in 1970, a time when the standards & practices departments at the networks could be pretty strict and no one wanted to be accused of airing something which had subject matter which was too intense for the public. (Well, that's the theory at least. Strong movies like Gargoyles and Trilogy of Terror went for broke and both are fondly remembered.) The House That Would Not Die is clearly attempting to be in the same vein of movies like The Haunting, as the ghosts are never shown and the hauntings are limited to doors which open by themselves and a sinister indoor wind. (What was the first movie to feature evil wind?) The movie also features a séance -- a staple of this kind of movie -- but it comes across as somewhat lethargic. Along with the haunting, this is also a possession film (a few years before The Exorcist), but that is also quite tame.
The House That Would Not Die is based on the novel Ammie, Come Home (since when is Ammie short for Amanda?) and, based on the synopsis which I read, the movie diverts from the book in some way. Perhaps it shouldn't have, as this haunted house film plays more like a melodrama at times. The finale feels somewhat abrupt and the story just ends with the resolution. There is no character development (we never live why Sara is living with Ruth) and the movie feels repetitive at times. It never comes close to being scary or creepy, as the vague nature of the ghosts stymies the horror aspects. And while Stanwyck certainly brings an air of class to the proceedings, the movie also feels much older than its actual age, as Stanwyck and Egan speak in the kind of clipped dialogue which we know from movies from the 40s and 50s. Given that most made-for-TV movies from the era were dramas, it's nice to discover this relic from a bygone time. However, it's a little too representative of that period and the toothless nature of the movie simply makes it feel like an oddity today.
The House That Would Not Die features a portrait of a man who looks a lot like a woman, hinting at a twist which never comes on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film has been framed at 1.33:1 (reinforcing the fact that this was made for TV) and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. This transfer features an odd mixed-bag of quality. Some shots, many of which are close-ups of Stanwyck, are crystal clear and look as if they came from a movie shot today. Other scenes feature obvious grain which looks as if gnats have swarmed the set. It's very odd. That aside, the colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is pretty good and the level of detail works in the clearer shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get any dynamic audio effects, but the actors are never drowned out by the music and there is no hissing or popping on the track.
The House That Would Not Die Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Film Historian Richard Harland Smith. This is followed by an interview with Director John Llewellyn Moxey (9 minutes) in which he talks about his career and how he got involved with the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long