Send in the killer clowns: 1988’s “Ghosthouse” (aka “La Casa 3″), now on AMC’s Shudder

By on December 12, 2017

Night Flight recently partnered up with Shudder — the AMC Network’s horror streaming channel — and they’ve asked us to curate a guest row of content, and so we turned to our resident expert on ’80s cult horror, our social media editor KJ, who selected four films from their cult horror library.

We had asked members of Night Flight’s community to select the fifth movie you’ll find in our row of five cult horror titles, and the winner is David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult fave Rabid, which we recently wrote about in this previous blog post.

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The poll is now closed, and thanks for voting! By the way, we’re still offering 25% OFF on an annual subscription (regularly just $29.99 for the whole year) to Night Flight Plus (promo code: SHUDDER), and a free month of Shudder (promo code: NIGHTFLIGHT)!

Read more about Italian filmmaker Umberto Lezi’s Ghosthouse below.

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The sometimes under-appreciated Ghosthouse (often split into two words: Ghost House) was originally titled La Casa 3 in Italy in 1988, where Sam Raimi’s films The Evil Dead (1981) and The Evil Dead II (1987) had been re-titled La Casa and La Casa 2.

According to the film’s producer, exploitation auteur Joe D’Amato, it was producer Achille Manzotti’s idea to change the title of Umberto Lezi’s film to La Casa 3 in order to trick the audience into thinking Ghosthouse was the next film in the series, the first Italian entry.

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Plotwise, we’re in familiar territory, and we begin first with a prologue taking place in the year 1967, in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.

A young girl, Henrietta Baker (Kristen Fougerousse) is being reprimanded by her funeral director father Sam Baker (Alain Smith) for knifing his beloved cat with a pair of bloody scissors. She’s locked up in the family home’s basement, where she’s consoled by an evil-looking oversized, overstuffed clown.

Meanwhile, upstairs, her parents are brutally butchered.

We learn later that Henrietta’s father Sam had occasionally stolen personal items from the dead bodies at the funeral home, including a teddy bear — which belonged in a child’s coffin — but Sam gives it to his daughter, which then sends us down this blood-soaked path of revenge from the past (“Just an ordinary little girl, until her father gave her that doll”).

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Twenty years pass, and now the story in 1987 picks up with a young college-age couple, Paul Rodgers (Greg Scott) and his wife Martha (Lara Wendel).

Paul is an amateur CB/ham radio enthusiast who spends his free time chatting with strangers and other CB freaks about Simon Le Bon, Kim Basinger and other topics of great importance.

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Then, Paul picks up the transmitted sounds of strange screaming sounds and a plea for help.

Paul — remember, this is the 80s, and no one had a clue how computers work — is somehow able to use his computer to trace the radio signal, and he and his wife track the source of the screams to a deserted, decrepit and dilapidated house in the ‘burbs, the very same one from before (also the very same location used in Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery).

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There he finds Mark (Ron Houck), Jim (Martin Jay), Tina (Kate Silver) and Susan (Mary Sellers) — two brothers, their annoying sister, and one of the brother’s girlfriend — who are camping out on the grounds of the empty house with the grisly, gory past.

A strange property caretaker named Valkos (Donald O’Brien) tells them all to get the hell off the property, but the six aren’t ready to leave until they solve the mystery of the screams.

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They decide to split up and investigate the house separately, a foolish mistake as it turns out, as they’ll learn the deserted house isn’t as empty as they thought.

Down in the basement of the house, the horror clichés start up right away.

Tina sees a ghostly apparition — the angelic little blonde girl Henrietta holding her teddy bear — and soon the young people soon begin dying off, one by one, dispatched by (in no particular order): an axe coming down on a skull; a butcher knife stuck in a neck; hedge clippers that are jabbed in a back; a fan blade that slices and dices its way through a throat; a guillotine that reduces a waist size; a claw hammer, and lots and lots of shards of broken glass from exploding/expanding light bulbs, jars, etc.

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Lezi — who used the pseudonym “Humphrey Humbert,” which sounds a bit like the protagonist in Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, although we don’t think there’s any reason for the name change here — had started his long career as a journalist for local newspapers and magazines before working as a film critic.

Lezi eventually segued to working on films, and worked his way up from assistant director before debuting with his first directorial effort, a pirates-with-swords saga called Queen of the Seas, in 1961.

He then worked his way through a number of genres, directing his way through fumetti-inspired films (adult-themed comic books), a war film, a couple of spaghetti westerns, a series of giallos, a handful of poliziotteschi (police thrillers), a few zombie flicks and a cannibal film or two — including the popular Cannibal Ferox (1981) — before turning his attention to the supernatural horror film genre.

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The title-change ruse apparently worked, by the way, as Ghosthouse was deemed a commercial success, coming amid other late ’80s supernatural-laced horror films involving deadly houses, like House (1986).

And, who doesn’t love a movie with a demonic-looking killer clown with razor-sharp teeth? Remember Poltergeist (1982)?

We’ve read that some of the synthed-out eerie background music heard here (by Simon Boswell and Piero Montanari) was liberally lifted from Boswell’s own score for Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (aka Deliria), which had been released a year earlier (we also told you about that one recently).

Watch Ghosthouse on AMC’s Shudder and make sure you check out Night Flight’s curated row on Shudder this month, which will include Cronenberg’s cult classic Rabid and five more Night Flight selects.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.