The House of Seven Corpses (1974) Retrospective

SUMMARY
A director courts disaster by filming his horror movie in a real haunted house. In the midst of the film a zombie (in the credits referenced to as “The Ghoul”) is awoken by a magical chant from The Book of the Dead. Actress Faith Domergue, who plays an actress playing a Satan worshipper, reads from a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and chants: “Exsurgent mortui et ad me veniunt” (which in Latin translates to “may the dead rise and come to me” (CQ)). The creature starts thus by killing everyone in and around the house (Starting with Price, who ventured upon the graveyard after hearing something suspicious). At the same time Eric the Director and his assistant David head for the graveyard, to shoot some shots. On arrival they discover the body of Price, and to his horror Eric discovers an (previously unnamed) eight grave that bears David’s name. After a struggle with the latter, David emerges from this grave as a zombie. The entire crew, including Eric, who has fled from “David”, are killed by the zombie. The film ends with zombie “David” who finds his drowned girlfriend Anne floating in a nearby pond. While the credits start to roll David is seen taking Anne with him to his grave.

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DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
A rare example of a horror film shot in Salt Lake City, Utah, The House of Seven Corpses (1974) is perhaps best known in the movie history books as the final film of actress Faith Domergue, the former adolescent protge of Howard Hughes and contract player for RKO who starred in such sci-fi films as This Island Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, and Cult of the Cobra, all released in 1955. This particular film was released in 1974 shortly after another low-budget shocker with Domergue, Psycho Sisters (opposite Susan Strasberg), after which she retired to live quietly in California until her death in 1999.

This film marked a reunion of sorts for Domergue with actor John Ireland, the onetime Oscar nominee from All the King’s Men (1949) with whom she had previously appeared in Lucio Fulci’s mod 1969 thriller, One on Top of the Other, when both were taking roles in Italy. Furthermore, she had also appeared with costar John Carradine on another old dark house film, Carl Monson’s soporific Legacy of Blood (1971), while Ireland and Carradine (who had never worked together before) would go on to drive-in infamy with Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977).

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Fortunately all three of the actors are given plenty of juicy dialogue to play with here as they enact an early version of the meta-horror trend that would become mainstream decades later with Scream (1996). The concept here revolves around a notorious house belonging to the Beal family, all of whom died under violent and inexplicable circumstances. A film crew arrives on the scene to cash in by shooting a horror movie, though they also unwisely decide to integrate readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead into the shoot. Naturally that awakens the dead in a less than hospitable mood as the director (Ireland), aging star (Domergue), caretaker (Carradine), and nubile starlet (Carole Wells) have to scramble for their lives.

Of the recognizable actors, the Vancouver-born Ireland easily has the most to do here as the financially-challenged filmmaker Eric Hartman. In fact, Ireland was very busy himself at the time, popping up in two made-for-TV thrillers as well as Laurence Harvey’s last film, Welcome to Arrow Beach. Ireland continued to remain busy acting until his death in 1992, often balancing TV roles with more exploitation films like Salon Kitty (1976), Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979), The Incubus (1982), and even his last film, Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992).

Almost exclusively a TV actress before this film, the Louisiana-born Carole Wells had become a child actor and music performer, winning her most notable screen role a year after this film in Funny Lady (1975) for Columbia. A year earlier she had just become a widow after the death of her first husband, Edward Laurence Doheny IV, heir to the prominent Los Angeles oil family whose name begat one of the busier streets in Beverly Hills. She remains an active presence in Los Angeles promoting humanitarian causes and natural health products. Oddly enough, another real-life Doheny also appears in this film in her only screen role, as the departed Suzanne Beal: Lucy Doheny, Carole’s mother-in-law and the reigning matriarch of the family until the early 1990s. Not unlike this film, the Doheny family had its own grisly brush with tragedy in 1929 when Lucy’s first husband, Ned Doheny, was shot to death by his male secretary, who then turned the gun on himself.

The House of Seven Corpses marks the sole feature directorial effort for Paul Harrison, a TV writer on such series as H.R. Pufnstuf and Doctor Dolittle. More interesting behind the camera is its art director, Ron Garcia, who also appears onscreen as the late Charles Beal. Garcia had previously written a pair of notable drive-in films for producer Harry Novak, The Toy Box and Machismo (both 1971), and on the latter film he also served as cinematographer. That would eventually prove to be his profession of choice as he also worked behind the camera on projects ranging from Schoolgirls in Chains (1973) to more prestigious fare like Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982) and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). More recently he has gone the television route with series like Numb3rs and Hawaii Five-O, a far cry indeed from his drive-in origins.

However, Garcia didn’t serve as the actual cinematographer on this particular film; that duty instead went to a fascinating exploitation cult figure, Donald M. Jones, who had earlier directed the aforementioned Schoolgirls in Chains and would go on to helm the outrageous The Love Butcher (1975), the offbeat slasher film The Forest (1982), the VHS-era staple Project Nightmare (1987), and another Carole Wells film (her last to date), Molly and the Ghost (1991).

A reliable drive-in fixture, The House of Seven Corpses later became a staple of late night TV broadcasts in the 1980s as well as a VHS perennial thanks to its release on a multitude of labels over the years. More recently the film has become more difficult to see, perhaps due to the less than stellar film materials in existence, but it’s now easier to see as an old-fashioned gothic shocker made just as Hollywood was about to transition into the rougher waters of slasher films just a few years later. Even more importantly, it’s now a snapshot of a juncture in Hollywood history in which multiple generations of actors and Los Angeles players intersected, producing a film whose curiosity value extends well beyond its status as a horror programmer.

Gary Kent, the associate producer on this quintessentially ’70s cheapie creepy, got his Hollywood start as an actor in the 1959 Western King of the Wild Stallions) with the single line “The whole herd is spreading out now.” In the next few years, his career quickly spread out” in many directions (stuntwork, assistant director, special FX, set construction, electrician, etc.), in mainstream movies and TV series and also in the films of such B-, C- and Z-level directors of the era as Peter Bogdanovich, Monte Hellman, Al Adamson, Ray Dennis Steckler, Gary Graver et al. With a book on his 50-year-and-counting career now rolling off the presses, Kent looks back on Seven Corpses, his one film as producer and “one of my favorite moviemaking experiences.”

Gary Kent
Gary Kent

Gary Kent Interview, the films associate producer

How did you get involved with The House of Seven Corpses?
Gary Kent: Paul Lewis was a great production manager and producer in Hollywood, and also a close friend. I had assisted him on a couple of pictures when he was production-managing-enough so that I started calling myself a production manager, and worked in that occupation for Gary Graver on some of his nudie cuties. Paul gave me the first legitimate production-managing job I had, which was House of Seven Corpses. In fact, Paul more or less turned the picture over to me. I think he showed up twice, we had drinks and then he went back to LA, and that’s about all we saw of Paul! So I production managed the picture, and they thought I did a good enough job that they gave me an associate producer credit on it. I brought it in under budget, actually, so everyone was very happy.

Whose idea was Seven Corpses?
Gary Kent: As far as I can remember, the project came about firstly through the director, Paul Harrison. He had the idea to do the picture and a writer named Tom Kelly was recommended to him, whereupon they more or less collaborated on the script. Harrison had some of the financing coming out of Utah; at the time, it was one of the “penny stock” capitals where people could invest without a lot of rules and regulations, and there were write offs for film. Harrison had a dentist friend in Utah who had some money, and that’s why we shot there. Also, Harrison wanted the experience of going on location and getting away from Hollywood. He made his movie debut with House of Seven Corpses, and I believe it’s the only film he directed. He was one of the staff directors for the TV series H.R. Pufnstuf, which was a children’s show.

How did you come to shoot in the Utah Governors Mansion?
Gary Kent: Paul Lewis came to Utah to find one place where we could do this whole thing, or most of it. The two Pauls, Lewis and Harrison, had done some prelim work and compiled a list of available places, and one of ’em was the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City, which was no longer where the governors lived; at the time, it housed the Utah State Historical Society. The mansion was “practical,” it was in use, but it was perfect for us. It had that [spooky] look from the outside, and inside were staircases winding up three stories and the belfry and everything we wanted. The problem was, most of the rooms were full of secretaries sitting at desks, typing away. So we had to arrange it so when we were ready to shoot, we would call “Quiet!” loud enough that all the secretaries could hear it throughout the place and stop their typing, and the minute we said “Cut!” you’d hear click click click click, all these typewriters going again!

That’s gotta be a tough way to make a movie.
Gary Kent: Oh, you bet. There were all these signals that they agreed to, but there was always someone opening a door and walking into the middle of a shot. And people would be opening doors a crack to watch us, peering through windows and that kind of thing. It was sort of touch-and-go the entire way.

And there had to be people unexpectedly walking into the place also.
Gary Kent: Yes. There would even be tourists, there to go through the Historical Society, who’d find out there was a movie shooting and they’d wander to our section. It’s a huge building and we’d be in different parts, filming away, and in would come people from Miami or Germany or wherever, to watch the moviemaking. But somehow we survived. In fact, looking back, it was kind of fun in a way. Another interesting side note is that the head of the Utah State Historical Society was a fellow named Joseph Smith; it seemed like every fourth or fifth Mormon was named Joseph Smith. He was this old curmudgeon who hung out in a belfry way at the top of the building, and it was his job to keep his eye on all of us. I had to begin every morning, before we started shooting, by going up to meet with Joseph, who would give me this litany of complaints that they had regarding cast and crew: “Someone smoked a cigarette!” and grievances like that. We started out having tea, and then it went from tea to tea and pastries, to tea and finger sandwiches, and then to having lunch together. By the time the film was finished, we were close friends!

What else did your producing duties entail?
Gary Kent: In actuality, just about everything. I hired all the crew and scouted all the locations. At first, Paul Lewis went with me when I was going around and bargaining for where we were gonna stay and things like that; he let me do it and sorta supervised me. The minute he realized I was in charge, he left, and that was it; I inherited it all. So I basically ran the shoot from top to bottom the entire time we were in Utah. It was a pretty good shoot, although I will tell you that as we were starting, our gaffer was withdrawing from hard drugs—which I did not know because his younger brother, who was his assistant, covered for him. The first few days, we had no gaffer on the set, and his brother said, “He’s got the flu.” The gaffer finally showed up, three or four days after we started, and he looked like a ghost. Turns out he’d locked himself in his motel room and withdrawn from smack.

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And how was Harrison?
Gary Kent: He was in his H.R. Pufnstuf mode: “Get the cast and crew together and get ’em there and I don’t want to know about any problems or anything.” So I had to sort of “mother” everybody…or “father” them…which frequently is handled by the director. Everybody falls in behind the director and he becomes Daddy; in this case, he was Uncle Paul and I was Daddy, and I kept it all moving.

Some of the Seven Corpses crew ended up having long careers.
Gary Kent: Marty Hornstein, the fellow who played Danny the cameraman, I also had hired as our assistant director. Marty went on to production-manage and produce some very good movies, a number of the Star Treks among them. He also appeared as an actor in a film I directed, L.A. Bad (1986). The paintings of the various members of the Beal family were done by Ron Garcia, an art student in LA who had originally intended to spend his life as an artist. Ron made a deal with the two Pauls to do the paintings, and then he came to Salt Lake and did props and dressed the sets. At the Historical Society, there were desks in all the rooms, no beds or old mirrors or anything like that. So Ron was always running around town conning these old Mormon women out of their family heirlooms (laughs), and then he’d have to cart them out again and deliver them back. Ron also got killed in the opening montage of murder scenes; he was heavily made up (gray hair and beard] to play the Beal we see being stabbed. Ron went on to become a director of photography of some renown, and is now principal cinematographer on the TV series Numb3rs.

Ron Foreman, who played the makeup man Ron, actually was our makeup man, and he also did a lot of the effects stuff. For instance, he made the half-a-cat for the scene where Faith Domergue finds that it has been killed. He went on to successes as an art director in the major leagues. Oh, in the graveyard scene where the hand comes up out of the ground, Ron also contributed to that: A hole was dug, about 3 feet deep, and a guy got in it, and then the hole was filled with stuff Ron cooked up, a combination of oatmeal and sawdust. When the hand appears, it looks like it’s reaching up out of solid ground. If I’m not mistaken, the guy holding his breath down in the oatmeal was Larry Record. We had hired several local people to work as grip assistants and PAs and Larry was one of them, and since he’d had some acting experience, we also had him play a member of the crew, Tommy. And we had him buried in oatmeal and reaching up out of the “grave”!

Were any other locals in the cast?
Gary Kent: There were several; one was Jo Anne Mower. I hired her to be my assistant, and she also wanted desperately to be in the movies, so I put her in Seven Corpses. She was rigged in a hanging harness and swung out into the air from the first landing so that it looked like she had hanged herself. She was about 14 feet off of the floor. She was delighted to get the cameo, and trusted me implicitly, as I arranged the scene; there was no sign of anxiety or fear. Jo Anne swung by the neck in that one scene and was very, very happy.

In the movie, the characters stay in the creepy mansion where they’re shooting. Where did you guys actually stay?
Gary Kent: At a lovely little motel that had a restaurant in it. They gave us a real good deal and treated us very well. It was maybe five minutes from the Governors Mansion, and another 10 or 15 from where we shot some of the exteriors. The motel restaurant food was good and everybody seemed happy with the accommodations.

Did you have to conform to a lot of Mormon dos and don’ts while you were there?
Gary Kent: Yes and no. They had rules, but the rules were really transparent and pliable. For one thing, for sure, there was no drinking or smoking on the set; in fact, there were no open bars in Mormon territory where you could just go in and have a drink. But there were all these “private clubs” where for 20 bucks you could join, and then you might as well have been in Hollywood: You could walk in, “Yeah, I’m a member” and have drinks any time you wanted. So there really was no hardship for the crew—who, being from Hollywood, were thirsty the minute they got off of work. You could also go to liquor stores, which they had all over the place, and buy bottles and keep them in your room. John Carradine, every night when we’d come to the dining room, would show up with a brown bag in which he kept his bottle of whatever. They had a little makeshift bar, and he would sit there and order a Coke and pour his own drinks, and proceed to get nicely plastered every night.

John Ireland, off-camera, I found to be a delight. He wasn’t a huggy-feely kind of guy, but he had no ego either. The rumor in Hollywood was that he was extremely well-endowed, and I felt that that must be true, because he always seemed to be rushing off to meet a lady somewhere after the shoot. At one private club, I walked into the rest room and there was this incredible odor of marijuana circulating. All of a sudden, a stall door opened and out came John Ireland, and he had this big doobie in his hand. He handed it to me and he said, “Here, Gar, finish this off. I’m in a hurry, I’ve got a hot date.” Out he went, leaving me standing in the rest room in this cloud of marijuana while the most-endowed man in Hollywood went rushing off into the night!

Ireland plays the director of the movie-within-the-movie, who’s always sarcastic, snarling and rudely rushing people. Is he like any director you’d worked with?
Gary Kent: Al Adamson! When I see the movie, there’s something about the way John plays Eric Hartman that reminds me of Al: a lot of snarling going on, but not a lot of directing. I don’t mean that negatively ’cause I loved Al, but he just was not a really heavy-duty director. Al had his opinions, but he didn’t have a clue how to actually direct an actor, except maybe “Move here” or “Go there”—but finding a character’s motivation, forget it! In fact, it’s as though Al Adamson and Ray Dennis Steckler had a tryst, the result being Eric Hartman in Seven Corpses!

Steckler was a snarler too?
Gary Kent: No, but he was the consummate smiling wheedler who would wheedle you into doing things—which, in a way, Eric Hartman does in Seven Corpses. Although Hartman is mainly a barker and abuses Faith Domergue vocally, he also cons her. Steckler had the ability to wheedle, and he had a wild charm that Al Adamson didn’t have; Al was not particularly a charming guy. You combine those two elements and you get Eric Hartman.

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Within House of Seven Corpses, we watch a low budget horror movie being made. What’s true-to-life and what’s not?
Gary Kent: What’s “wrong” is, you don’t see that flurry of panic that’s usually going on a low-budget set, as the crew is trying to accomplish miracles without any money. That’s the first thing you notice when you go to a low budget set: The whole activity behind the camera is frenzied and chaotic. And I don’t feel that when I watch Seven Corpses. Also, the cast and crew all have rooms at the mansion, and that’s usually not the case on a low-budgeter; everyone stays at a motel somewhere around town. Otherwise, what you see in Seven Corpses is not that different.

I see a lot of job-swapping in Seven Corpses: One of the actors in the movie-within-the-movie also works behind the scenes, the director becomes a camera operator, on and on. This was also true in low-budget movies then, yes?
Gary Kent: Yes, and that was one of the things I loved about it: You got to be more than just one thing. On the majors, if you were an actor, you didn’t dare touch a light; that’s strictly union all the way. Even though House of Seven Corpses was a union film acting-wise, it wasn’t crew-wise; on most low-budgeters, the crew are either NABET or they’re independent contractors. So it’s not unusual to have a crewman say to an actor, “Hey, would you mind bringin’ that light over here?” It was always fun to be able to jump across those boundaries; you felt a lot more like you were part of the whole process.

Photography wise, there are a lot of different setups and a few creative shots. For a shoestring movie, it goes the extra mile there.
Gary Kent: That was Jonesey-Don Jones—who’s also one of my best friends. I hired him to shoot that. He had photographed some of his own little pictures but he hadn’t done a regular film yet, so I said, “Hey, we’re gonna give you your shot on this.” And you’re right, he went to some extra lengths. Paul Harrison came from TV and he sort of had that idea of coverage: “Long shot, medium shot, close-up, let’s get out of here “there’s no such thing as a dolly or slow creeping shots or weird angles or anything. Whereas Jonesey wanted to be a little bit more creative if he could.

My one complaint: The day-for night is terrible. Sometimes I can’t even tell which one I’m supposed to think it is!
Gary Kent: It’s terrible, I totally agree, and that’s true in some of Jonesey’s other films. He’s never really addressed that! I remember a film we did called Schoolgirls in Chains (1973) where Jonesey was lighting the cellar. He was a fast and good lighting man, but he didn’t really have a clue as to source light. A cinematographer [is supposed to ask himself], “In this scene, where is the light supposedly coming from? Is it coming through a window?” and so on. On that movie the gaffer was Ron Batzdorff—who later became the king of still photographers on all movies, big and little—and we were down in the cellar and Jonesey was saying, “Flood the light here.” Batzdorff said, “Just a minute. Where’s your source light?” and Jonesey went, “…Huh?” So that may be why you see what you see in House of Seven Corpses!

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Who cast the movie?
Gary Kent: Paul Harrison did the casting in LA before we left. Faith Domergue was a sweetheart, but she was very “to herself.” Not aloof, but she would, for example, eat alone. And you didn’t feel you could go over and say, “May I join you?”. You knew she wanted her space. I never felt she was lonely—when she was shooting, she was really into it—but afterward she just did not mingle. But a nice person.

When I watch the movie, I wince at the zingers directed at her character, about her age, her wrinkles and so on.
Gary Kent: Right, right. But that never seemed to bother her at all. Now, Carole Wells was a gamine, and had the time of her life doing a lead in a film. At the time, she was married to Larry Doheny of the famous Dohenys of Los Angeles, the oil barons. But being married to Larry didn’t keep her from flirting, in a nice way, with enough members of the crew that they all wanted to “carry her books,” so to speak. Especially Don Jones and Ron Foreman, who seemed to be smitten by Carole, and it was sort of reciprocal. In fact, one night I walked over from our motel to a little drugstore to get some amenities, and coming back I passed the railroad yard right next to the motel. All of a sudden I heard “All aboard!” and a chug chug and a toot toot, and I looked up and it was Carole Wells, Jonesey and Ron in the cab of a switch engine in the yard. The engineer had gotten out of the engine and gone inside a building to punch a clock or something—and Ron knew how to run it, how I don’t know. The three of ’em had had a little too much to drink and were having a ball in that thing, driving it around the yard. I went out and jumped on with them, not even thinking, “This is probably a felony” ! Maybe we went 300 yards, if that, and then Ron stopped it, and of course the engineer came running out, screaming and yelling. But Carole sort of charmed him, because she was a charming lady, and her charm kept us from goin’ to the pen. She was a gas off the set, more than willing to be “one of the guys.”

When we see her body in the brook at the end, was she really naked?
Gary Kent: No, she was wearing a beige body stocking from the waist down, and had pasties on her breasts. However, the dentist-investor had some kind of…stuff he used in dental work that he was going to put all over Carole, that would allow her to be nearly nude but not cold in the water. This became a big thing for him; all he could talk about was that he was going to put it on her for that scene. She went along with it with the attitude of, “Let’s just get the shot and get it over with.” It was kind of unnecessary, but we let him do it, and she was a good sport.

It seems so strange, that someone married to a made-of-money Doheny would not only be in a movie like House of Seven Corpses, but be half-naked in it!
Gary Kent: Right, right! By the way, Lucy Doheny, Larry’s older sister, is also in the movie. In the murder montage, Lucy is the dead woman in the bathtub.

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And John Carradine?
Gary Kent: Carradine, of course, was Carradine—a delight. He was amazing, in that he had a photographic memory, He could memorize scripts just reading ’em once and he’d have all the lines down. And a prolific drinker. And a total professional. Again, not a huggy-feely guy, but he would always say hello to everyone the minute he walked on the set. That’s one thing I liked about all those great old actors, from the worst to Gregory Peck: Whenever they showed up, they did not have a big entourage as they do today. These old guys would show up alone and always greet everybody, down to the lowest person on the set. And Carradine was evidently easy to direct, even if somebody changed a line. If Paul Harrison or Al Adamson or anyone threw stuff at Carradine at the last minute, he would make adjustments right away without any argument.

At night, he would generally sit by himself at a bar, or something resembling a bar, and drink. I never saw him eat [laughs)! But he had this very curious habit of spitting on the floor, wherever he was. He would drink and he would tell the most marvelous show-business anecdotes and jokes-usually bawdy. He had 800 million of them; he was like a standup comic and just rolled ’em off. And then every once in a while he would turn around and call up a hocker and spit it out right on the floor.

Even in, like, a nice restaurant?
Gary Kent: Absolutely. It was very strange that he would do this! That habit must have gone back to the days of spittoons, and when there wasn’t one around, he would just avail himself of the floor.

I thought you might have done some of the stunts.
Gary Kent: Chuck Bail was my best friend, and for a pittance he flew up to do all the stunts. He fell down some stairs and off the balcony and whatever else had to be done. Chuck is an excellent stuntman; in fact, I learned a lot of my stuff from Chuck, and we’re very close to this day.

It strikes me as so odd…the Mormons wouldn’t let you have a cigarette or talk in a salty way, and on and on and on. But it was OK for you to make an occult horror film with like 14 murders, lots of blood, satanic rituals, a mutilated cat, a shower scene and female nudity!
Gary Kent: Well, you have stumbled across one of the great conundrums of filmic-location history. I have shot in Mormon country several times, and have always been amazed at the contrast between what was considered moral, or “proper,” and what really went on. Some official did read the Seven Corpses script before shooting commenced, and approved it. Go figure.

I worked several times for Al Adamson at his café-motel right outside a tiny little Utah burg called Torrey, when he would shoot some of his films there; and a couple of years ago I went to Capitol Reef (a Utah national park) as a guest of honor at one of their film festivals. The partying that went on in spite of all the rules of church and state were amazing. But there is, of course, a darker side. When I was there for the film festival, they threw a party at, believe it or not, Al Adamson’s old café motel, now called the Rimrock Inn. I was dancing with a particularly attractive young lady from Bicknell, Utah, and remarked, “Gee, the Mormons seem like pretty nice folk after all.” Her reply: “It seems that way to you because you’re not a woman.” There is more, but that is perhaps another story.

And one of the most popular films at the festival was Satan’s Sadists (1969)… get my drift? You can’t get much more violent and perverse than Satan’s Sadists, and yet all these Mormons loved that movie, and they dressed up like Al Adamson and Russ Tamblyn and Regina Carrolit was quite funny. I was in the theater lobby and this staunch-looking Mormon came in with his son, who was maybe about 9, and the guy asked, “Do you think it’s OK for my son to see this movie?” I said, “No, I don’t think he should,” and the kid threw a fit. The old man said, “Oh, it’s all right, he can handle it”—and all I could think was, “This is very strange!”

The graveyard we see in Seven Corpses-where was that?
Gary Kent: A friend of our investor the dentist lived maybe 10, 15 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, and he had all kinds of property where we set up and did most or all of the exteriors—the half-a-cat bit, Carole in the brook and the graveyard scenes. It wasn’t a real graveyard, we just set up some tombstones. The budget was approximately $80,000, and we came in about $5,000 under that. We shot for about two and a half weeks.

The $64,000 question: Can you explain the ending to me?
Gary Kent: Like a film I did for Ray Steckler, Sinthia, the Devil’s Doll (1968), where I never understood the whole film, to this day I do not understand the ending of House of Seven Corpses. Supposedly Eric Hartman gets his comeuppance and is killed by his own phantasmal alter ego…killed by his “cinematic dementia,” so to speak…but I didn’t buy it. I thought, “That’s awfully vague!”

Is that your interpretation of the ending, or did somebody lay that on you?
Gary Kent: Tom Kelly, the writer, told me that. He said that Hartman’s character has brought about this demon through his own egomaniacal energy as a director. His own demonic insanity toward getting his film made results in him manifesting his own death by camera. At the end, his demise is like “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” justice.

How…weird.
Gary Kent: I know you’re not goin’ for it. Me either. When he conceived the ending, I think Tom may have been smoking a little of the funny stuff, to be honest with you! I would venture that most of the cast and crew didn’t understand it either. They gave Tom Kelly a producer credit, but about all he did was show up in Salt Lake City and stay in his motel room. Once in a while he’d wander over to the set with a cup of coffee, and try to get away with smoking a cigarette; he’d stand around and watch things for about an hour, and then go back to his room.

Where did you see the movie for the first time?
Gary Kent: Paul Harrison invited me to see a rough cut in a screening room in LA. I didn’t understand the ending (laughs), but I was more or less pleased that we got it done, that I hadn’t taken cast and crew “into the depths” and then lost ’em! I got them there, we made the film and got back to LA in one piece, and Harrison actually had a film that he felt good about, anyway. I just rewatched the movie. Goldie Hawn once said that the way she remembers a movie is by the experiences she had making it, and when I watched Seven Corpses the other night, all the experiences came back: the lighting guy withdrawing from smack, the train incident with Carole Wells, the mad dentist with his goop. And the kindness of the local people who got involved, too. When you’re off on location, everybody tends to bond a lot more than if you’re in Hollywood and you’re going home every night to friends and family. Off on location you get much closer, because you eat together and run around together and party together more (than in Hollywood), and you all think you’re making the greatest thing since white bread. You become much more of a family. That I remember from this film.

Faith Domergue
Faith Domergue

Faith Domergue Interview

You co-starred with John Carradine in two films—House of Seven Corpses and Legacy of Blood.
Faith Domergue: House of Seven Corpses was fun to do. We shot it in Utah, because it was partially backed by Mormons. There was always one of the Salt Lake City Mormons on the set, to make sure there was no smoking or alcohol around. CocaCola, OK. Wine, no way. Now, I’m a Catholic, and I do like wine with dinner. But you had to buy your own wine and sneak it into the restaurant in a brown paper bag. The waitress would bring me a glass, but she wouldn’t pour it!

When you think of Carradine, what comes to mind?
Faith Domergue: A very embarrassing situation. John was a lovely man, but when we were reading for House of Seven Corpses, he was “in his cups” (drunk). But when we were working, he was absolutely splendid. He had arthritis from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, but this didn’t prevent him from doing a magnificent job. He had a long monologue that was just great! I admired him very much. Later, however, John Ireland and I were having dinner at a restaurant, and I commented about Carradine that I was pleasantly surprised how wonderful he was-considering he was tight during the reading of the script. Well, a man at the next table stood up, turned around, bowed and left. It was John Carradine! I was never so humiliated in my life! He never mentioned it afterwards, and I’ve always wished that it hadn’t happened.

Where exactly was Seven Corpses shot?
Faith Domergue: It was shot in a huge Mormon house a museum piece that is open to the public, in Salt Lake City. I never saw the movie but I have it here and have yet to run it. It was my last film.

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Is shooting on actual locations better or worse than working on a soundstage?
Faith Domergue: Shooting at an actual location is the best! When you’re shooting at a real place, it adds to the atmosphere and the performance. It’s much better for the characters and the film.

How did you wind up in Seven Corpses?
Faith Domergue: I was about to move to Europe with my husband, and I wanted to do one final picture. John Ireland was a pal; I heard about it, called my agent and told him to get me an interview. I went in and was very serious. When I was leaving, the director, Paul Harrison, said “Goodbye, Smiley,”  and I knew I got the part!

the-house-of-seven-corpses2

Why did the Mormons finance a horror film?
Faith Domergue: They were good businessmen, I guess. They knew a surefire investment when they saw it. so they took it! had a certain kind of charm to it and it got out and played a lot, and it’s another film I’ve never seen.” Paul Lewis hired Kent to production manage 1973’s shot-in Utah HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES, with John Carradine, John Ireland and Faith Domergue. “We had to put up everyone in this little dinky hotel, but they treated us great, and I had to talk the Utah State Historical Society into letting us use their building, which was the ex-governor’s mansion but it now houses all the Mormon archives. It was a marvelous house, really photogenic, but we would be shooting in the hall and right inside the door there would be eight office workers on the phone. Whenever we called ‘quiet’ they all had to stop their typing. Ron Foreman worked on this, and he later went on to become a really well known set designer. One night we all probably smoked and drank a little too much and we stole a freight train. I can remember Ron and Don Jones somehow knew how to drive the thing and we went roaring through Salt Lake City singing songs. I still don’t know how we didn’t end up in jail. Carradine would hit the bar the minute we were finished and sit there like a gentleman and tell jokes all night.”

CAST/CREW
Directed
Paul Harrison

Produced
Paul Lewis
Paul Harrison

Written
Paul Harrison
Thomas J. Kelly

John Ireland as Eric Hartman
Faith Domergue as Gayle Dorian
John Carradine as Edgar Price
Carole Wells as Anne
Charles Macaulay as Christopher Millan
Jerry Strickler as David
Ron Foreman as Ron

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
tcm.com
Fangoria#285
Fangoria#133

2 thoughts on “The House of Seven Corpses (1974) Retrospective

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