Home Video Hovel: The House Where Evil Dwells/Ghost Warrior, by David Bax
Browse the DVD section at CostCo and you’ll see that packaging two subpar movies together to make them a more enticing deal overall is a fairly common practice. That’s essentially what Shout Factory has done with the Blu-ray of The House Where Evil Dwells/Ghost Warrior. To their credit, though, at least they’re doing so in an interesting way, finding oddball flotsam and jetsam from the same studio’s library (MGM in this case) with some sort of thematic or narrative similarity in order to put out nice additions of movies you’d otherwise have a hard time finding. And their methodology clearly works. In describing the disc to a friend, even though I was telling him neither movie was especially good, his eyes lit up at the very concept of a corny double feature of 1980s samurai-adjacent flicks.
Kevin Connor’s The House Where Evil Dwells, despite being the lesser of the two, gets top billing. That’s probably because it has by far the more eye-catching title, not to mention a starring role for Susan George of Straw Dogs. In an extended, bloody, slow-motion prologue, we see a samurai in 1840 discover his wife and his apprentice having an affair. He slaughters them both graphically (severed limbs and heads hit the paper walls) and then does himself in by way of hara-kiri. Roughly 140 years later, an American couple moves to the area so the husband, a journalist played by Doug McClure, can work on a story. Their expat friend (Edward Albert) finds them a great, classic Japanese house that rents for next to nothing because the locals say it is haunted by the ghosts of the three dead folks previously discussed. Before too long, the three Yanks find themselves possessed by the spirits, reliving their tragic story, including the softcore sex parts. Despite some stylized violence and fun camera tricks when the ghosts interact with the living, House is too rushed and incoherent (it’s unclear what exactly the husband is reporting on, for instance) to be more than superficially engaging.
Larry Carroll’s Ghost Warrior (apparently also known by the wonderfully meaningless title Swordkill) is slightly better, if only by virtue of having some narrative momentum. In 1550, a samurai is struck by an arrow while trying to save his kidnapped wife. He falls from a cliff into an icy river. In the modern day (1984, to be exact), his frozen body is discovered and shipped to a cryogenics lab in Los Angeles. The lab recruits an expert on Japanese history (played by Janet Julian) to observe the autopsy. Except, it turns out, there is to be no autopsy. Instead, an experimental procedure will attempt to revive the chilled warrior. It’s a success but the man, Yoshimitsu (Hiroshi Fujioka), finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand and where no one understands him (because Julian’s so-called expert doesn’t really speak Japanese). He flees the facility and briefly teams up with an aging World War II vet (Charles Lampkin) to fight off a gang of homicidal street toughs but soon discovers he has no place in this world. As the title already told us, he is a ghost. The acting is almost uniformly atrocious but at least Ghost Warrior has a throughline beyond just watching people get slashed up with swords.
In addition to supernatural samurai and their decade of release, The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior also have in common female leads and the patronizing exoticism Western culture often displays toward Asian history. They don’t, however, share anything that could make them truly recommendable. I suppose, though, if you’re like my friend, you already made up your mind to buy the disc as soon as you heard about it.
If you do need some convincing, the 1080p transfers of both films are terrific, particularly Ghost Warrior, which allows a sharp, clean look at Los Angeles in the 1980s.
There are no special features.