The House on Tombstone Hill (1989) (also known as Dead Dudes In The House) Directed by James Riffel. Starring Mark Zobian, Victor Verhaeghe and Sarah Newhouse. A group of friends disturbs the resting place of a vengeful ghoul while renovating an old house.
Our story begins in 1948, with a young woman calmly drinking milk while her mother paces the living room nervously. Oh, and a couple of other tidbits: the older woman is covered in blood, holding a kitchen knife and clearly a man in very unconvincing drag. Got all that?
She looks like Kramer from Seinfeld doing a Norman Bates cosplay.
On the carpet lies the source of all that red stuff. It’s an old man, facedown and quite dead. And that’s it. No opening title crawl. No dialogue. No explanation as to why the man is dead. Just hulking Granny Kramer peering down at the victim.
40 years later, two cars pull up to the titular house and dispense the exact motley crew of teenage boneheads we’ve come to expect from years of watching flicks like this. There’s sensible hero Mark, his girlfriend Jamie, their good buddy Steve and his girlfriend Linda, doofus Joey, destructive lout Bob and everyman Ron. I’m being generous calling Ron an “everyman” because the character has one line. Each of the others get to make an impact in some way. We get to know them.
We learn that one of these nitwits, Mark, put a down payment on the house. The gang is here to do repairs to get the place up and running. Or maybe they’re just here to break stuff. Seconds after discovering the front yard tombstone of one Abigail Leatherby, moronic hooligan Bob destroys it with a sledgehammer.
Inside the house, Granny suddenly wakes up from a 40-year nap.
She’s not looking her best.
The gang outside finds a noose hanging from a tree, and Bob gives Joey money to buy a case of beer at the nearby general store. They make their way inside to find a broken down interior, and we learn that a woman purchased the place in recent years to begin renovations before she mysteriously vanished.
Tensions flare between academic Steve and blue-collar hothead Bob as they survey the shattered rooms. Curiously, the joint still has electricity.
Our first taste of the supernatural occurs when Bob’s massive toolbox goes flying off a dusty table, followed by the appearance of Granny. She stands in the hallway, staring at the young people who have barged into her home.
After silently judging them, she shuffles away. Mark pursues her to the upper floors, while the others discover that they are locked inside. Jamie follows him upstairs after he stops responding to her shouts. She finds bloody walls leading to the third floor and the shattered tombstone from outside on the carpet. While inspecting an old diary and a drawer full of girl’s clothes, she is accosted by dear old Granny.
“I know about your boyfriend.”
“What about him?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I should know. I killed him.”
After fleeing Granny’s clutches, Jamie runs into what’s left of Mark. He kind of looks like Victor Pascow from “Pet Sematary”, but done with less of a budget and more blood vomiting. And for some reason, Mark is now wearing blood-soaked glasses.
Does being undead harm your eyesight?
Jamie doesn’t seem all that confused by his bizarre appearance and behavior as if Mark shows up with gaping stab wounds and grey skin all the time. She seems more upset that the bloody specter calls her irresponsible with money than about the fact that she’s being critiqued by a talking corpse.
You really have to hand it to Douglas Gibson, who plays Mark. This is his moment in the film to give us a standout performance, and he comes out with guns blazing. He invests Dead Mark with much more charisma than boring old Alive Mark ever had. Linda eventually clocks him across the face with a length of wood, knocking his dead ass out.
Trivia note: Gibson pulls double duty, playing both Granny and Mark!
Downstairs, the gang discovers that the windows are just as impenetrable as the front door. In response to their attempts to break the glass, all the house’s shutters slam shut at once.
Jamie informs her pals that her dead boyfriend attacked her, and nobody believes her tale.
Outside in the darkening dusk, Joey returns with the case of beer. Regrettably, he’s locked out.
On the third floor, the shutters slam back to reveal an open window. Joey grabs a ladder as Granny gets ready to pounce with a machete. She relieves Joey of his hands and he falls three stories to the lawn below. While staring in horror at his wrist stumps, Joey is killed by Granny’s cane. The old crone drops it from above and it impales the teen through the chest.
We can only assume that the cane was made of dark matter particles, and therefore quite heavy.
Bob pulls his own machete and other weapons from his toolbox and arms his friends. He then becomes some sort of arms manufacturer, stapling together a radial saw blade and a wooden handle to make an apparent superweapon. Now bristling with unimpressive armaments, the group heads upstairs to kick some elderly ass. Think of them as the Dream Warriors, except without cool abilities or likability. Smartypants Steve gets separated from the group and locked in the hallway with Granny. She advises Steve to follow her downstairs because it’s his turn to die. Sounds reasonable.
He runs into Dead Joey, who pulls the cane from his chest and casually chats. He proves to be a far less dangerous phantom than Mark was, and vanishes after conversing. Although Granny shows up to kill poor Steve, don’t count this brainiac out yet. He’s carrying the doomsday device that Bob made earlier.
What can a saw blade, a wood handle and half of a leather strap do against an evil Granny?
Absolutely nothing! No one, including Steve and Granny, knows what that contraption was meant to do.
Outside in the night, two bored friends named Rick and S decide to break into the old Leatherby house after dark and see if the ghost stories about the place are true. They are able to enter through the unlocked basement, and there they discover the rest of S’s first name. Or not.
Inside, Jamie learns the backstory. Granny aka Abigail was attacked in her home in 1948 by a maniac who got in through the unlocked front door. He stabbed her 37 times before fleeing. After 9 days recovery in the hospital, Abigail returned home to her daughter and resumed her life. Unfortunately, a male neighbor came to pay a concerned visit and Abby stabbed him 37 times while her daughter Anne calmly drank a glass of milk. She was arrested for murder and died 4 days later of a heart attack. Anne dug her mother’s body up from the cemetery and buried her in the front lawn of her home, then hung herself from a nearby tree.
That’s a pretty eventful week.
Dead Steve eventually turns up and proves to be the deadliest zombie ghost yet, and loudmouth Bob meets his gory doom. Rick and his buddy S, who came in through the basement, eventually meet the mostly naked ghost of Anne. She doesn’t have any of the usual ghoulish injuries the other phantoms sport. After Anne does a striptease for the boys, Granny pops up to defend her honor.
“The House On Tombstone Hill” is a late 80’s Troma product, though it’s much less silly than the studio’s usual fare. I wouldn’t call it a serious horror flick with any particular artistic flair, but there is one moment I liked. The creepiest scene is a low angle shot of Dead Linda sitting on the floor of a darkened room. Her ghostly face fills the screen, and her friends are somewhat hazy figures in the background as they speak to her. They are unsure whether she’s alive or undead, and she grins in a very “Evil Dead” sorta way. The entire scene was Raimi-esque.
I had heard of the film for years and never seen it, and I was pleasantly rewarded. Overall, I didn’t feel cheated of my time spent watching. For the genre, it’s well acted and there are surprisingly effective gore scenes. Hands chopped off, saw blades through skulls, close-ups of stabbings, a pane of broken glass acts like a guillotine and cuts off twitching legs that spurt blood, organs are ripped out from a zombie’s torso, etc. Plus, Granny delivers some serious beatdowns. Not only is she indestructible, she throws dudes around like they were paper dolls!
The last few minutes are greatness.
Body Count: 8
- A man is stabbed to death offscreen. We see his bloody corpse.
- A man has his hands hacked off with a machete and is impaled with a cane.
- A man is crucified with knives in his wrists and ankles before being killed offscreen.
- A woman is impaled through the back with the doomsday saw blade.
- A man is sliced in half at the waist with a glass window. Best death in the film.
- A man is killed when a cane is rammed through his head.
- A woman is stabbed to death with scissors.
- A man is stabbed to death.