Monday, June 20, 2022

"Poached Salmon...And Me!" - Mausoleum (1983) - Film #232

Let us turn to 1983's Mausoleum, written by Robert Barich and directed by Michael Dugan, two filmmakers who inexplicably never made another horror film. Among its other delights, Mausoleum stars a wonderful trio of acting pros: Bobbie Bresee, Marjoe Gortner, and La Wanda Page.

Some of your universe's critics belong in a mausoleum, I must say, because they fail to appreciate this film. For example, reviewer Zorin-2 writes, "The film turned out to be a total waste of time. The story was all right, but the film was made poorly, with poor performances and sets." Reviewer Huntress-2 (perhaps a sibling of Zorin-2) writes, "The "demon" make-up was the worst I've ever seen and the acting was just pathetic. This movie should pride itself on being one of the worst films out there." And reviewer dbborroughs writes, "One of the truly awful horror films ever made."

Don't believe these critics. Read on for the truth about Mausoleum...

The film begins, appropriately, in a cemetery in the 1960s, where a 10-year-old girl named Susan protests to her Aunt Cora that she wants to stay with Mommy, who is, unfortunately, lying dead in a casket. “Let’s go home,” Aunt Cora says.

“I’m not going home,” Susan cries. “I’m going to your house.”

“That’s right,” Aunt Cora replies, helpfully adding, “My house is going to be your home until you’re old enough to inherit your mother’s estate. Now let’s get in the car.”

Susan starts running among the tombstones while her aunt wails helplessly—a response that seems inappropriate and exaggerated until we find out about the dangers of this particular cemetery. Aunt Cora does not follow Susan through the cemetery. Eventually, Susan finds a vault and then has a vision of a mausoleum that is both on fire and deluged with rain simultaneously across the way.

Susan walks to the mausoleum, where bolts explode out of the stone wall and the wrought-iron gate swings open, bathing Susan in a mysterious green light. She walks to a crypt marked with the family name NOMED, where the cemetery caretaker finds her. Unfortunately for the caretaker, he is forced out of the mausoleum in pain by the shadow of a figure near the crypt.

Then Susan’s eyes glow green and the caretaker stumbles outside, only to have his head explode.

Inside, the shadowy figure beckons Susan forward to the rat-covered crypt. She pricks her finger on something that is later revealed to be a crown of thorns, prompting the stone cover to slide away and reveal a monstrous hand bathed in green light.

The film cuts to the present day, where Aunt Cora (who looks exactly the same as she did in the 1960s, except for a nice gray wig) consults a psychiatrist. “Susan is starting to behave the same way her mother did before she died!”

The psychiatrist dismisses Cora’s anxiety and states helpfully, “Look, Cora. Susan’s a beautiful, grown woman now. She’s married. Let her lead her own life. It’s time to let go, Cora.”

Meanwhile, Susan takes flowers to her mother’s grave. She glances up at the mausoleum (which now appears to be about twenty yards from her mother’s grave, though it was across the cemetery previously). The filmmakers intercut Susan’s visit to the mausoleum with the psychiatrist’s reading of Susan’s family history: “Therefore did the demon extricate itself from the crown of thorns, departing the confines of the outer-rimmed area of Hell, and was rewarded with the eternal possession of the first female born of the family known as Nomed. Once having left the mausoleum, the demon is one with the possessed, and can only be returned to rest by the first-born, having reunited the demon with the crown of thorns. And, lest we forget, no Nomed woman must enter the sanctuary of the mausoleum.”

Of course, Susan enters the mausoleum, and is bathed in the same green light as before. However, Susan wakes up in her mansion with her husband Oliver (played by Marjoe Gortner) holding her hand—her visit to the mausoleum was just a dream. Or was it?

Yes, it was.

Oliver suggests they “go to the club and do some dancin’” so they dress up and go to a nightclub, where Susan is bothered on the dance floor by a man who looks like a drunk Grizzly Adams. After Susan and Oliver have stepped out of the building and are waiting for the valet to bring them their car, the drunk Grizzly Adams stumbles past them to get into his own car. Susan’s eyes glow green and the man’s car explodes. (This prompts a mild-mannered elderly woman to exclaim, “Oh shit!”)

The next day, after Oliver has left on a business trip, Susan gives her maid (played by La Wanda Page) a grocery order and is then sexually harassed by the family handyman Ben. Minutes later, Susan’s eyes turn green again and Ben is plagued by a vision of the mansion’s French doors moving back and forth—a vision that disturbs Ben more than is probably necessary. Nothing happens, and Susan tells Ben to get back to work.

The film then follows Ben as he goes about his handyman work—he fertilizes a bush, drives a riding mower, eats lunch while reading a book called New Western Garden Book. Eventually, Susan appears on a balcony wearing only a towel. She lets the towel drop, exposing her breasts to Ben, and then her wine glass cracks. Again, nothing serious happens.

Finally, at night, Susan leads Ben to the garage, where she kisses him and makes love to him on a dirty mattress. Afterward, Ben compliments her sensitively: “I’ve had some women in my time. Some of them real pros, you know what I mean? But, uh, sure as hell you beat them all.”

Unfortunately for Ben, Susan’s eyes are green again. She turns into a demon and kills him with a gardener’s fork.

After Oliver returns from his trip, Aunt Cora visits with some estate papers. She walks through the house, looking for Susan, until she finds a demonized Susan upstairs.

The demon uses telekinesis to lift Aunt Cora out of her shoes and over a balcony, then grotesquely rips open her chest.

Of course, Susan does not appear to remember the murders she commits when the demon possesses her, so she waits for Oliver to return at night. “What’s for dinner?” he asks.

“Poached salmon…and me.”

Later, after they have made love, Oliver wakes to see Susan sitting in a chair in silhouette. Of course, he immediately runs out of the room to call the family psychiatrist—a woman sitting in a rocking chair is one of the most unsettling and frightening things a man can experience. The doctor says they will talk in the morning, and then Oliver breaks a glass when Susan steps into the room—clearly, a woman standing in a kitchen is the second-most unsettling thing a man can experience.

Susan goes back to sleep and has a dream consisting of flashbacks to random scenes we have already seen. Helpfully, Susan—and the audience—realizes that the family name Nomed is actually Demon backward! 

As Susan sleeps, a shirtless Marjoe Gortner watches over her, obviously one of the most unsettling things a woman can experience, though fortunately she remains asleep.

The next morning, Oliver leaves for work and La Wanda Page checks on Susan, mumbling, “There’s some strange shit going on in this house, I know damn well there is.” She says this as green-lighted fog is pumped into the hallway from underneath the bedroom door.

In a lesser film, La Wanda Page might have mumbled something crude about marijuana, but instead she runs downstairs while cartoon music plays. She tries to catch Oliver on his way to work but she misses him, so she goes to the kitchen and pours herself some liquor while mumbling, “Good google-moogly, I tried to tell Mr. Farrell there was something wrong. I need a drink of the good stuff.”

Upstairs, the green-lit fog continues to pour from under the door, but now that she is fortified with liquor, Ms. Page opens the door, but when she sees something inside that is not shown to the audience, her eyes widen and she runs away again, accompanied by even more cartoonish music. “No more grievin’, I’m leavin’!” she exclaims, and with that she is out the front door carrying a suitcase that appeared from nowhere as she walks away from her job for good.

Susan visits the psychiatrist, who hypnotizes her. Without any prompting, she returns to her state as a 10-year-old girl. Then she starts breathing alarmingly. “Where are you now?” the doctor asks.

“Safe. I’m in the mausoleum.”

Suddenly, she sits up and her eyes glow green, alarming the psychiatrist a tiny bit.

He quickly takes her out of the hypnotic state and she remembers nothing. As soon as she leaves, the doctor calls another doctor, to whom he speaks for a long time, trying to get a word in, before he tells the doctor about Susan, whom he wanted to diagnose with “extreme schizophrenic regression manifested by inner impulses and outer physical projection including vocal and facial fantasies.” In short order, the consulting doctor recommends following the procedure in the family diary—using the crown of thorns to imprison the demon.

Back at the house, Susan, wearing a revealing nightgown, opens the door for a plant delivery man.

The delivery man quickly tries to attack her, but she fends him off so he can call his nursery. Of course, her eyes glow green again and she makes the man’s ears bleed before his eyeball slips out of his head and she reveals the demon possessing her.

In an inspired bit of surrealism, the film cuts to later as Oliver arrives home, and we find Susan has somehow converted the bedroom into something like the mausoleum, with antique furniture and cobwebs covering everything. 

In a bizarre and memorable sequence, Susan visits the Woodland Hills Promenade mall and steals a painting from an art gallery, then murders the gallery owner by telekinetically lifting him off the ground and dropping him onto a sharp table centerpiece that impales him.

Perhaps oddly, the theft and murder has no consequences for Susan, although she does intentionally break a plate in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, the psychiatrist drives to the cemetery to get the crown of thorns from the mausoleum. As he removes the crown from the mausoleum door, Susan senses it, even though she is locked in a topless embrace with Oliver back at her house. Susan transforms into the demon and kills Oliver with what appear to be demonic nipples, each equipped with a face, mouth, and fangs.

The psychiatrist arrives at Susan’s house. We watch as he walks through every room (including a balcony), and then he eventually confronts Susan in her cobweb-covered room, where she has hidden various bodies. After yelling that he is going to finish what Susan’s father died trying to do (Note: We have never seen or heard of Susan’s father previously), the doctor slams the crown of thorns onto Susan’s head. She squirms for a long time, then green fluid begins seeping from her face (and her demon-nipples’ mouths). She falls to the floor and reverts back to Susan.

In the mausoleum, the demon’s physical form stumbles back to its crypt, urged on by the shadow-figure from the opening (which is apparently not the demon itself). For unknown reasons, the psychiatrist drives Susan to the mausoleum. They enter the crypt and Susan becomes her 10-year-old form to yet again shove the crown of thorns onto the demon’s head. The demon lies down and its eyes close—including the eyes on its nipple-faces.

Susan and the doctor walk out of the mausoleum. But the film has one final twist: the caretaker of the cemetery, who wears brown monk-robes, is revealed to be the lustful gardener that Susan killed earlier. He laughs and the filmmakers freeze the frame.

The credits roll over a haunting song:

Love, and other painful things
They take control
And make us lose our wings
To fly to where we’ll be
Alone with memories
Let me live life free again…

To where I’m only me
And not the child who I’m not meant to be
Let’s blow the fire dead
That’s burning in my head
Let me live life free again…

Please let me be for a while
Give me the chance to find myself
Be me for a while
Feel a hundred dreams have come and gone
Just swept away
Not meant to stay
So all that’s left is to play

The end
Will finally close the book
We’ve reached the end
Let’s hope we’ll never look again
To see the pain
And live the fear we knew
We are free again…

Mausoleum has an excellent pedigree, despite the lack of experienced writers and directors. In addition to the stellar cast, the art direction was provided by the great Robert Burns and the creature effects were provided by the great John Carl Buechler (in face, the demon in Mausoleum might be the John Carl Buechlerest of all the John Carl Buechler creations). With all its grotesque death scenes and the liberal sprinkling of nudity throughout the film, Mausoleum is truly one of the high points of 1980s pop-horror.