The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I know it sounds like a documentary about Trump Tower, or maybe 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but in fact it is a Japanese samurai ghost story. Usual deal.

What, you've never seen one of those? Oh, OK, you've twisted my arm and I'll tell you about it.

It begins with a scene set in 1840, near Kyoto. A bald-headed samurai warrior approaches a house. Well, I guess he's a warrior, because he has a very large sword tucked into that obi around his waist. You'd have to guess that he isn't a fisherman or a farmer, and he's probably not a chef because this was years before Benihana's. I ruled out pirate. No parrot. He sees a beautiful woman in the doorway. He enters. They engage in a courtship ritual, in which they sip some tea and exchange glances. They then get on to the actual courtin', in which they exchange more than glances and she sips her tea from the ol' samovar of love. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Another warrior approaches the same house. This guy must be a higher-ranking bald-headed warrior, or at least a more prosperous one, because he has two swords tucked into his sash. He looks at the paper walls and sees the silhouette of the lovers embracing, and hoo-boy is he pissed off. We realize that it must be his house, and the woman must be his wife.

He shows that those Ginsu swords can slice and dice through walls, furniture ... even tin cans! Isn't that amazing?

Eventually he uses the swords to chop off the other guy's right arm, and then his dick, and so forth, until the other guy looks like the Black Knight in that Monty Python movie. Mr. Two Swords then slices and dices his wife. For his grand finale, the disgraced warrior kneels down and commits hara-kiri.

Already we have learned two valuable lessons for our next assignment in Japan:

1. If you are a horny one-sword guy, do not choose the wife of a two-sword guy for your ceremonial lust ritual. For maximum safety, you might choose the wife of a pillow manufacturer, or at most a Swiss Army Knife guy.

2. If you are going to have sex in a Japanese house with paper walls, and you just don't want to extinguish the lamps, be sure to place those lamps between you and the walls, or you will be entertaining the entire neighborhood with a xxx-rated shadow puppet show starring Admiral Winky-san.

The film then picks up the main story in 1982, when the real estate agent for that house finally finds a tenant - the unsuspecting American family of a writer. "Wow, honey, what a deal. It's a twelve bedroom house on a hillside with an elaborate garden, and it's only three dollars a month. And everyone said Japan was so expensive." Of course, the prospective Japanese renters can read the sign and avoid the 邪悪な家. The Japanese know that the sign means "house where evil dwells," but the Americans can't read Japanese, so the real estate guy translates it into English as "future site of McDonald's", and the Americans are none the wiser.

Of course, the house is now inhabited by the ghost of the three Japanese people who died there in 1840. Amazingly, the three of them get along just fine now in the afterlife, and really seem to enjoy their post-death entertainment, which consists of playing evil pranks on the new people who enter the house. Their powers basically consist of the ancient ceremonial "Froggy Gremlin" ritual, which is called in Japan "plucking the magic twanger." (Rough translation.) For you younger readers, Froggy was a little dickens from the Buster Brown kiddie show. He would always pop up in a puff of smoke, seemingly from nowhere, to plant words into a lecturer's head through subliminal suggestion, words which the lecturer would then repeat without thinking. When the kids would laugh at what the serious lecturer conceived to be a somber moment, it would suddenly dawn on him what he had just said.


Professor (seriously): "And little Dwight was a good boy who always listened to his parents, did his homework, and ate his spinach, and grew up to be ..."

Froggy: " ... a total jerk."

Professor:  " ... a total jerk. (Kids laughing.) No, no, wait ... why did I say that?"

I used to find this hilarious when I was little. Come to think of it, I still laughed twenty years later when some comic (Albert Brooks??) turned it into a comedy piece with Froggy Gremlin using his powers on Richard Nixon, forcing Nixon to tell the truth inadvertently.

Anyway, these three Japanese ghosts have the same subliminal suggestion power as Froggy. The director shows them superimposing themselves upon the living, at which point the ghosts are exercising some mind control.


Wife (unpossessed): "Honey, why didn't Alex ever get married?"

Husband: "He's picky. I guess he never found anyone who satisfied him."

Wife (now possessed): "I'll bet I could satisfy him ...  (now unpossessed again) ... wait ... why did I say that?"

Well, you can guess that their marriage is going to get a little rocky after a few dozen exchanges like that. Of course, it will inevitably result in her sampling Alex's own bald-headed warrior. (Hey, how often do you get to see a 50ish Doug McClure naked?)  Eventually it will result in a closing sequence which is a re-creation of the opening sequence, except that the fight is between Edward Albert and Doug McClure, who are in turn being possessed by the two Japanese ghost-warriors (right).

This film has some very good moments, especially in the opening scene. It also has some beautiful photography. Unfortunately, it has two elements which kill it as a ghost story:

1. Unintentional laughs. Some elements of the ghosts' behavior provoke giggles rather than scares; Doug McClure looks downright silly in the scenes where he is possessed and has to perform martial arts maneuvers; a scene with giant mumbling crabs is just ridiculous; there's a silly family dinner scene in which a possessed Edward Albert makes his daughter drink soup with a ghost face in it - "C'mon, eat your soup for daddy."

2. Ultra-slow pacing.

Since the audience is forced to wait too long between the scares, and since half of the scares come out silly rather than frightening, the film just doesn't work. On the other hand, my overall impression of the film is not what I expected from the cellar-dwelling 3.4 rating at IMDb. As I watched this, I didn't feel that I was watching a terrible, cheesy movie, but rather one that was a regrettable failure, because it could have been a good genre flick with just a little more thought put into it. (I suppose I wasn't the only one who felt that way because Ju-on: The Grudge is based on a very similar premise.) The opening scene is quite effective, and the Americans' arrival in Japan is workmanlike, but then the whole film collapses like a house of evil cards. In other words, it's a ghost story that seems pretty damned good until the ghosts show up!


  • No features except the original theatrical trailer
  • Two versions of the film: full screen, and anamorphic widescreen.


  • Mako Hattori shows her breasts in the prologue.

  • Susan George shows her breasts and a brief, dark flash of her crotch area in a nighttime love scene with Edward Albert. She then shows her breasts is a properly lighted scene with Doug McClure.

  • 50ish Doug McClure shows his butt.

NOTE: A typical MGM disc, this DVD has both a widescreen and a full screen transfer, and you need both to see all the nudity.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-. It is not a good movie, but is better than indicated by the IMDB score. It has a solid concept and some good sequences, but inadvertent laughs spoil some good concepts.

Return to the Movie House home page