The movie within a movie horror film is older than most probably know. Many audiences probably know it from dreadful movies like "Scream 3" (still love the first one) and "Urban Legend: Final Cut" (The original-the less said the better), while horror fans know it from movies like Lamberto Bava's awesome "Demons" and Bigas Luna's 1987 Spanish horror outing 'Anguish." Yet it goes even earlier than that, with movies like Bob Clark's "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" and 1974's "The House of Seven Corpses" paving the way for future films of this style.
"House" opens with promise, as the viewer is witness to several murders from an unseen figure. We then cut to a cast of actors and a cash strapped director (John Ireland) shooting a low budget horror movie in an old, supposedly cursed house. One of the actors finds the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and after including a passage of it into the script and reading from it (it's in Spanish-who knew?) a cadaver rises to knock the bozos off.
There's some good points to "The House of Seven Corpses." The cast of character actors (Ireland, John Carradine, Faith Domergue and several others) are a lot of fun, with Carradine playing his stock "Strange Old Man" character, and Ireland being quite entertaining as the director, delivering lines like "You're supposed to be going into a trance, not an orgasm!" There's also a pervading sense of atmosphere to the proceedings, as well as the obligatory zombie (done with the old "cheap pancake make-up" style effects) that adds a nice, nostalgic feeling.
The satire of the pitfalls of making low budget horror is too hit and miss though. Sometimes it gets plenty right (difficult to work with veterans, production problems, angry directors) and other times it misses the mark (it feels like it leaves too much out-it would have been nice to see younger cast member's in the movie within a movie.) The direction is also flat, with too many scenes of dialogue and chatter going nowhere, and even using the same shot of a zombie walking repeated three or for times. That's the kind of thing you'd expect from somebody like Ed Wood. Also, while I'm all for a slow pace, the pace here is almost snail like, and by the time the zombie starts to get to work, you'll be lucky if you are still awake. Finally, there's the score by Bob Emenegger, which is really annoying, and uses the same obnoxious choral music cues to the point of numbing the viewer.
"The House of Seven Corpses" is almost impossible to recommend. It's too slow for casual viewers, too light on blood for gore-hounds, and too dull and uneventful for huge horror fans. It feels like an old Television movie and nothing more.