Though it has never been “officially” classified in the annals of genre-specific filmdom, British cinema inducted a New Wave of horror that shyly boomed in the ’70s. It was then that filmmakers such as Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren began to ditch the older, romantic, gothic offerings from the former empire’s glory days of what many would gently describe as “terror films” in lieu of a much more sinister menace: man. Michael Armstrong’s joint-continental horror classic Mark of the Devil is often cited as being one of the first features in this unofficial New Wave to emphasize man’s inhumanity to his own kind.
But of course, anyone who has ever wandered through the aisles of a Walmart knows, scuzzy grown-ups can sometimes be undermined by tinier terrors: kids. The British realized this, too, developing such classics (on both paper and celluloid) such as Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies in order to give us a grand glimpse of just how scary these little bundles of elderly ladies’ photo album fillers could be. And while tales like 1960’s Village of the Damned took a much more supernatural/science fiction approach, 1967’s Our Mother’s House enabled us to bear witness to an entirely different form of fright: children raised on fundamentalist religion.
Here, in an adaptation of Julian Gloag novel of the same name, Our Mother’s House concerns seven children – ranging from ages five to fourteen – who have been raised by their single, very religious mother in a rundown Victorian house in a right regular suburban part of London. Hidden well away from the swingin’ outside world, Mrs. Hook (as played by Annette Carell, who would, interestingly, die a few months after the release of the film at the age of 37) of the septet has been suffering in silence from an unnamed chronic illness; her devotion to whatever off-center religion she has since joined having overridden her common sense when it comes to seeking out qualified, professional medical help.
And, like most people who have sought out snake charmers on roller skates instead of a proctologist can attest to, these things can turn around and bite you on the ass. Sure enough, mother passes away – leaving her intelligent-but-not-properly-educated offspring to face the facts: soon, they will be taken away and sent to live in foster homes (and, if they’re lucky, none of said homes will be in Pete Walker or Norman J. Warren films!). So the kids opt for a logical course of action: secretly bury mother in the garden, turn the tool shed into a shrine to hold seances with their dearly departed matriarch in, and cash the trust fund checks that show up every month thanks to their little brother’s brilliant forging skills.
Sure, it sounds like party central, right? Well, these are British kids, folks – and ones who were raised to condemn and judge just like Jesus did, at that. And just when life at Our Mother’s House becomes as totalitarian as the island of lost boys in Lord of the Flies, the kids’ dear ol’ deadbeat dad – expertly played by the late, great Dirk Bogarde (whose name I frequently sign on hotel registration books) – pops up after one of the children discovers his address and contacts him. Sadly, adding Charlie Hook (the Dirk) to this household is like pouring lemon juice on an open sore, and it isn’t long before this prime candidate for Walmart Dad of the Year is exploiting the whole operation.
Is that really a good idea with kids like these around? Abso-friggin’-lutely not! Co-starring in this psychological thriller from the dawn of the British Horror New Wave are Margaret Leclere and Pamela Franklin (who would become a semi-regular in horror films) as the eldest children; Phoebe Nicholls and the elusive Mark (Oliver!) Lester as two of the younger kids; and four other youngsters who literally disappeared come the movie’s final frame. Yootha Joyce (as a suspicious ex-housekeeper) and Anthony Nicholls (who would later appear in another evil child classic, The Omen) also appear in this unnerving tale from director Jack Clayton (The Innocents, Something Wicked This Way Comes).
Never before released on home video in the US, Our Mother’s House arrives on Manufactured-on-Demand DVD from the Warner Archive Collection in a transfer that is pretty much hit-and-miss. Culled from the best materials available, the print varies in quality – alternating between being too flat, too cropped, and too dark throughout. It’s better than the ugly image I may have painted, naturally, and this well-worn print may actually up the creepiness factor for those of you who love old grindhouse-style presentations. Likewise, the English 2.0 mono audio track is an intermittent affair. The spoiler-iffic trailer gives us a glimpse of what the movie would look like in open matte, but is in even worse shape.
Video/audio discrepancies aside, Our Mother’s House remains an underrated gem from yesteryear – and is well worth a look. Recommended.