Nurse Meredith Stone (Squirm’s Patricia Pearcy) arrives at Langrock Mansion to assist an elderly inventor (Joseph Cotton). Life is good for Nurse Stone until Langrock’s grandson, Gabriel (John Dukakis), arrives following the death (or was it murder) of his parents. Suddenly, Langrock Mansion is rocked by a series of “accidents” caused by a mysterious killer swinging a table leg.
Horror audiences in 1980 expected to see beautiful, young people die bloody, grotesque deaths at the hands of a diabolical killer. Director Alan Beattie and screenwriter Jack Viertel decided to go against audience expectations with Delusion (a.k.a The House Where Death Lives). Beattie never allows Delusion to slip into sleaze territory which hurt the film’s box-office during it’s initial theatrical release. Instead of jiggling mounds of flesh and geysers of blood, Beattie handles the lone love scene tastefully (that means only slight nudity) and barely shows a trickle of blood during the murders. The cast is mostly comprised of gray-haired fogies and middle-aged men with the exception of Pearcy and Dukakis.
Jack Viertel’s script is inspired more by the old dark house mysteries of the 1930′s rather than the success of Halloween. Characters that include a slightly sinister butler, a sleazy lawyer (Eaten Alive’s David Hayward), and a family shame locked away in a secret room give the film a gothic atmosphere. The only things missing are English fog and a lost will. That being said, Viertel’s characters are complete oddballs which adds to the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity. Just when the viewer thinks he has the killer pinpointed, BANG, the suspect gets smashed with a table leg.
Joseph Cotton’s long film career came to an end with Delusion and it’s sad seeing this grand old actor withering away in a wheelchair. Despite his failing health, Cotton dominates his scenes with a sad grace. Patricia Pearcy looks like a school marm on summer vacation from Little House on the Prairie. Pearcy’s Nurse Stone appears to be so fragile and delicate, get too close and she’ll shatter, yet fights like a firecracker when cornered. Alice Nunn, better known as Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, shows off her screaming skills whenever she’s confronted by an insane person but has little else to do as the house cook. Watch for a couple of cameo appearances from Mr. Boom Mike, the best occurring when David Hayward nearly runs into the film crew while riding a skateboard.
The House Where Death Lives, a much better exploitation title than the more generic sounding Delusion, sported a poster that promised “The Slaughter NEVER STOPS” and “The Blood Will Haunt Your Nightmares Forever!” when released by New American Films. Nice ad lines for a bloody slasher. But Delusion is a subdued slasher that relies more on the skills of a veteran cast, a deliberate pace, and a twist ending instead of major doses of blood and boobs. This is more of a stalk-and-bash than a stalk-and-slash film. Delusion, the title was switched back for the vhs release, got lost in the mix during the big slasher boom but is worth seeking out for fans of slashers with a heavy dose of whodunit mystery.