MAUSOLEUM is a film about split personalities that has a split personality itself. At times, it's total atmosphere, recalling some of the greatest Italian horror films and working on our nerves. Other times, it's so absolutely ridiculous, it doesn't work at all. There is no doubt that the whole thing is silly, but just how much that silliness mows over the rest of the film varies from scene to scene.
We open in a graveyard where Susan (Julie Christy Murray) is mourning the loss of her mother. Running away from her Aunt Cora (Laura Hippe - a minor player in her final role before her suicide), she seeks refuge in an old mausoleum. The tomb seems to call to her, reaching out to her mind as a heavy fog rolls from its gates. Inside, she finds a demon who makes her forget about all her troubles.
Years later, we meet up with an adult Susan (Bobbie Bresee - STAR SLAMMER, ARMED RESPONSE), now a happily married woman who doesn't seem to have any skeletons, or anything else, in her closet. Her husband, Oliver (Marjoe Gortner - STARCRASH, EARTHQUAKE!) is away most of the time, but tries to spend as much time with his wife when he is around. Everything looks picture perfect.
Then, Susan starts going a little stir-crazy. As Susan's loneliness increases, the demon from the mausoleum is hatched once again. Susan's spirits begin to rise, but she goes through some startling changes. She starts to have moodswings and starts flirting with the sleazy gardener. Strange deaths begin occurring whenever she's around. Finally, one night, Oliver wakes up to see Susan sitting in a chair and he has a terrifying gut instinct that the woman in his chair is not his wife.
Everything starts out promising. The prologue is excellent, relying on atmosphere and some cheap but impressive special effects (this includes the demon itself, designed by John Carl Beuchler). Everything points to this film being a true diamond in the rough.
Then, Susan and Oliver go disco dancing. They half-heartedly shake their booties to some horrible instrumental dance track that would never have gotten airplay on Studio 54's worst night. Gortner looks embarrassed to be decked out in disco-gear that would have made David Hess cringe and Bresee just tries to grin through the whole ordeal.
Not believing my eyes, I quickly double-checked the copyright date. The film was released in 1983. That is when the awful truth comes out. The filmmakers (most likely director Michael Duga ) are woefully behind the times.
You might say I'm making mountains out of molehills. Of course, some of these films are going to start showing their age. And sometimes, they may even be dated before their time. But this is truthfully only the first of a handful of scenes that go south. There are a few that spring to mind, even a supposedly sexy sketch involving a delivery boy. But even though it does not change my opinion of the whole film, I should describe one shocking subplot which may give others pause.
You see, the worst moment is easily what they do with the character of Elsie (LaWanda Page - SANFORD & SON), an African-American maid who suspects that strange things are going on. It's a comic relief character, but that's no so bad. At first, I had high hopes. Page certainly has a good comedic resume. Maybe the humor would be handled with more class than say the racist stereotypes in the THIRTEEN GHOSTS remake. Forget it, by the time it comes time for her to make her exit, it's embarrassing. Page rolls her eyes like an old minstrel show, mutters, "No more grievin'. I'm leavin'," and runs out of the house, complete with high-speed effects and loathsome slapstick music. It takes a lot to offend me, but this did the trick. An inexcusable portrayal, more suited to Stepin Fetchit than a horror film.
But on to the rest of the film, most of which holds up much better. What strikes the viewer is how Susan's possession coincides with her loneliness. Susan is a classic co-dependent. The demon makes it's first appearance when she's orphaned and then comes back when her husband goes away on business and she becomes bored with her existence as a housewife. Add to this the idea that the possession is alleged to have taken her mother as well, and you?ve got addictive personalities being passed down genetically.
In real life, loneliness leads to all sorts of vice. People have admitted to turning to alcohol, drugs, pornography and other taboo objects to please their own personal demons. By the time they realize how much they've destroyed themselves, it's often too late.
Idle hands are the devil's playground and Susan just shows an extreme facet of those addictions. The demon takes a psychological and finally a physical form. Instead of the bottle or prescription drugs, the demon makes a personal appearance, manifesting itself within Susan. It's a fascinating point to the story and it's the part that works the best.
The performances are decent, for the most part. Bobbie Bresse does a decent job in the title role, when she's not under the demonic influence. But when it comes time for her eyes to glow green and the slaughter to begin, she doesn't seem to know what to do with herself. Call me crazy, but there were moments when I kept thinking of Marilyn Chambers and what she could have done with the part.
Hear me out. Chambers, former adult film actress who went legitimate, bringing her charisma and honesty with her to straight films. Compare Chambers' performance in David Cronenberg's RABID to Bresse's performance in MAUSOLEUM. In RABID, Chambers was able to retain her dignity as the tragedy of her infestation increased. It never played nearly as hokey as it could have. That hokiness shows up in MAUSOLEUM. There is something missing in Bresse's performance. She doesn't seem able to retain any sense of honesty when the plot twists become more and more fantastic.
Marjoe Gortner does a very good job. Gortner is an interesting actor in his own right. An ordained minister at the age of four, he continued to heal and preach all along the Bible Belt, until he exposed the whole industry as a fraud when he was in his teens. He left in disgust and turned his attentions to acting in various exploitation films, some with better results than others.
What makes MAUSOLEUM so frustrating is that is seems like two different films. Most of the time, the film is corny but very moody. At other times, when the filmmakers forget what decade they're in, it plays just plain corny. The film suffers greatly towards the middle, a few extra killings thrown in to stretch the running time. But the film is worth seeing through to the end.
MAUSOLEUM really tries, and most of the times it succeeds. But like the addictive personalities described in the film, when it falls, it seems to hit bottom. Despite my reservations, I would still recommend giving the film a chance. Even a screw-up like MAUSOLEUM deserves a friend.