Director: Michael Pataki
Screenplay: Frank Ray Perelli
Starring: Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, Trish Stewart, Lance Henriksen, Al Ferrara
Year: 1976
Country: USA
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 87 mins

There’s nothing like the feeling of finding a little treasure in the corner of a streaming service, an overlooked film that you’ve never heard of before but one which is far better than its name or premise suggests and is very likely to be deserving of that overused monicker “cult classic” – that was the feeling I had discovering Mansion of the Doomed late in 2023, tucked away on Prime Video. It was a poor quality transfer with some questionable audio, but the film I found managed to go above and beyond my expectations, and I was more than happy to revisit it for this release from 101 Films.

Mansion of the Doomed is one of the earlier films from prolific schlockmeister Charles Band – but don’t let that put you off! This is way before Band founded Full Moon Features, churning out low budget B-Movies like the Puppet Master, Subspecies and Trancers series. This is a decidedly different Charles Band, one clearly influenced by not only grimy grindhouse cinema, but also with film noir and mystery, and it’s these genres that clash together in Mansion of the Doomed.

Originally to be titled The Eyes of Doctor Chaney until the distributor deemed it too high brow a name, Mansion of the Doomed follows the eponymous Doctor (Basehart), an eye surgeon researching ways to perform full eye transplants, allowing blind patients to regain their sight. After a successful experiment on a pair of dogs, he needs a human subject – and gets one when his daughter Nancy (Steweart) loses her vision in a car accident. Aided by his personal assistant Katherine (Grahame), Chaney sets about finding unwilling donors to both prove his research and save his daughter’s sight…

At its core, Mansion of the Doomed is a nightmarish mash up of psychological thriller and body horror, blending aspects from the likes of Eyes Without A Face (A Face Without Eyes?) and the abduction horror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes as Chaney begins to kidnap victims to transplant their eyes into Nancy with increasingly poor results. Those victims then get unceremoniously shunted into a cage in the basement, blind ghouls with empty eye sockets, fed under the watchful eye of the callous Katherine. The narrative switches between Chaney’s thoughtfully narrated medical drama as he ponders why Nancy keeps rejecting the eyes he’s transplanting into her, and his victims plotting their escape as all those who go under the Doctors knife (his daughter included) slowly begins to lose their minds.

The central cast deliver their roles with delicious ham and dedication, with Basehart and Grahame taking turns to chew big holes in the scenery as the film’s villainous pair. Basehart plays Chaney as the seriously invested academic, almost oblivious to the pain his experiments are causing, but it’s Grahame that stands out, a weary madness about her Katherine as she’s dragged further into Chaney’s insane experiments with the doctor leaving her to deal with the human waste left over from each operation. Lance Henriksen is the closest the film has to a protagonist, both Nancy’s partner as well as Chaney’s first victim, and ends up spending most of his screen time blinded by Stan Winston’s impressively icky “empty eye socket” makeup. Rounding things out is Trish Stewart as Nancy, a relatively small role in the story but as much a victim of her fathers experiments as the rest of the cast.

Mansion of the Doomed is a surprisingly bleak film with an unconventional structure. Jumping into the narrative in media res, it plays out as almost a series of vignettes with Chaney narrating his choices of victim and how the quality of their eyes may help the success of his experiments, something that reaches an incredibly dark crescendo as he attempts to abduct a little girl, it is somewhat uneven and drifts between story threads frequently. A grimy and frequently nasty little exploitation piece and, while not as graphic as the likes of Hostel or Saw, is certainly an early example of the “torture porn” subgenre of horror, it’s also a story which has no easily discernible protagonist, something many viewers may struggle with but something I find remarkably compelling in films of this nature.

While it was never prosecuted, Mansion of the Doomed (known then as Massacre Mansion) was, in the 1980’s confiscated as part of Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act in the UK, part of the Video Nasties hysteria of the decade. While it’s certainly a grim film, this was likely more due to the lurid box art rather than the actual content, but there’s certainly no doubt that this is a bleak watch until the very end – it’s highly recommended though and it’s great to see 101 FIlms putting out a Blu Ray of this likely little watched cult classic. The HD transfer looks super and is far and away much better quality than the older copy I caught on Prime Video. While the audio is similarly better, it’s also noticeably still quite sketchy with the volume levels varying from scene to scene.

Bonus Features

  • The Charles Band Empire – A new documentary on the career of horror legend Charles Band.
  • Cutting Teeth – Editor Harry Keramidas on ‘Mansion of the Doomed’.
  • Limited edition booklet: Includes ‘On Mansion of the Doomed’ by filmmaker and critic Chris Alexander and ‘The Eye is blind if the mind is absent: The legacy of ocular violence & video nasties within Mansion of the Doomed’ by writer Andy Marshall-Roberts.

This release of Mansion of the Doomed is sadly a little light on bonus features, but what is present is extremely watchable and interesting. The Charles Band Empire in particular is a great little documentary in which Band himself discusses the body of work he produced before founding Full Moon Features, focussing particularly on Mansion of the Doomed. It’s a great, short piece with some excellent anecdotes, as is the interview with editor Harry Keramidas.

Mansion of the Doomed (101 Films)
3.5Overall Score
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