Michael Dugan’s ‘Mausoleum’

Spoiler Alert!!! 

As we roll well into the third month of social distancing and pandemic loneliness there’s one thing I’ve realized: I don’t take advantage of my Shudder subscription nearly enough. I mean, I’ve had it since November of 2018. I grabbed it first and foremost for Graham Reznick’s crazy and most-excellent Dead Wax. That free trial turned into dropping the bones for a year’s subscription. I hit it up quite a bit at first, but then I would glance at the app on my Roku and then go straight to binge mode elsewhere.

Sure, I’d hit it up for Channel Zero, Creepshow, and the occasional jump down the Fulci/Argento rabbit hole. But for the most part I’d just forget to click that red “S” on my screen. There’s a plethora of quality and trashy fare I could waste a Friday or Saturday night on, but instead I don’t. What do I do? What do I watch? Why am I asking you?

Well folks, being tethered to the home base for so long I’ve realized that I need to make amends to that 15-year old me that would’ve killed for something like Shudder in 1988. Instead of Shudder, I had five channels of network television and a couple local indie channels that would play shitty movies late on Friday night. Flesh-eating pigs(Pigs!), rape-y humanoids(Humanoids From The Deep), and John Saxon lifeguarding at Blood Beach were the gems that were offered up on WFFT Channel 55 in the 80s. Sure, there were some decent movies as well. Motel Hell, Phantasm, and The Changeling showed up, but those were few and far between. Nothing to truly compliment that Totino’s pizza and liter of Mountain Dew I’d usually partake in.

So in honor of that 15-year old kid in the Midwest looking for quality entertainment for those late night scares, I’m coming at you Shudder. And as my entrance into this new age of horror watching I started with a VHS classic(?) from 1983 called Mausoleum. I remembered this one quite well. It donned the video store wall at Video World for years, collecting mounds of dust and mildew. I’d never gotten a chance to watch it, though. I recently got an email from Shudder saying this classic had been added, so after everyone went to bed I tapped that red “S” and dived in. How was it?

Yikes….

So the story is that of a 10-year old girl named Susan whose mom dies tragically. The day of the funeral she runs from her mom’s grave to the family mausoleum where she comes in contact with a demon. She ends up living with her Aunt Cora and years later she begins to start acting strange, much like her mother did before she died. The aunt believes the family is cursed, but nobody believes her. Insanity ensues.

So this is one of those movies from the 80s that looks like it’s from the seventies. It has the tinge of 70s-ness to it, and even moments where you think the dialogue doesn’t quite match the lips. But they do match. The scene at the beginning at the cemetery is a little awkward. Aunt Cora just screams as Susan runs off, as if she ran into traffic instead of just a bunch of gravestones. Susan sees the mausoleum, wavering in the distance like a mirage(the special effects look like they were from Escape To Witch Mountain). She goes in to glowing green and red lights and a fog machine, as if there’s a free Exodus show happening. Susan’s not scared, though. A stumble bum saunters in from out of nowhere telling her to get out, then a shadow appears on the wall(the demon) and causes the bum to get one hell of a migraine. He leaves the tomb only to have his head explode outside.

This is the first ten minutes.

We then go to 20 years later when Susan is married to a some rich guy with a perm. I don’t know what he does, but there’s contracts involved. Aunt Cora has a conversation with the family psychiatrist about Susan acting like her mom did before she died, brings up the curse, and then the doc laughs it off. Susan goes to her mom’s grave to leave flowers and sees the family tomb from across the way, reminisces about the Exodus show and the stumble bum, then leaves. Her and the hubby go out to dance at a hotel night club. Her husband leaves her alone to answer a call about those contracts, then a drunk Dan Haggerty manhandles her on the dance floor. Susan and her husband walk out of the club waiting for their car and Haggerty follows them, stumbles into the husband and goes to his car. Susan gets the demon eyes going and sets Haggerty’s car on fire. The demon is in full force.

From here the demon starts to take hold, and it seems to have one hell of a libido. Susan seduces the creepy gardener before killing him with a gardening utensil, shows her husband a whole new horny side of her, and almost gets it on with some dude delivering a tree before he gets too handsy with her and she melts his brain in the kitchen. When the demon pops up and morphs from Susan’s body she looks like a cross between a Goosebumps ghoul and Witchy Poo. Aunt Cora makes the mistake of walking into the house without knocking and finds Susan in demon mode. She levitates Cora over the railing and then rips her chest open with her mind I guess.

So before you get the impression I thought this was a pretty bad flick, let me tell you that yes it was a bad flick. But in the sense that some bad flicks are fun to watch.

Before even IMDB-ing Bobbi Bresee I had guessed that she was probably a Playboy Bunny before she was an actress. Her acting wasn’t bad here, but her often nude scenes made me think that was her real bread and butter. Her husband played by Marjoe Gortner was a cross between Hellraiser’s Andrew Robinson and the guy that played Nigel in Top Secret! As a kid he was a child evangelical preacher for the pentecostal church, but left it when he was 19. That might’ve explained the stiff acting, especially when he was face to face with his wife’s breasts. Aunt Cora looked younger than her supposedly much younger niece, but whatever. She was there as the voice of concern that nobody listened to. The psychiatrist was a non-believer until he put Susan under hypnosis and the demon showed up, green eyes and plaque-covered teeth and all. One of the rare surprises here was the maid, played by Sanford and Son’s LaWanda Page. She added a bit a brevity to this campy flick, and I kept waiting for her to drop a few F-bombs.

When you think that films like The Keep, The Hunger, Sleepaway Camp, Christine, and Videodrome to name but a few came out in 1983, along with Mausoleum, you know that special effects had indeed come a long way by then. So Mausoleum does suffer from not-so-good effects and acting chops, but there’s a certain charm in its brazen boob shots and quirky demon effects. The family’s last name is Nomed(oh wait…is that…DEMON backwards? What??), nobody has any common sense, and the husband is completely clueless, yet you get lost in this early 80s nugget of supernatural fun. One big plus is that this version on Shudder is the remastered verison from Vinegar Syndrome. The picture looks amazing. The mausoleum scenes pop with bright greens and reds. It’s a pretty sharp looking print of the film.

So is Mausoleum a pretty lousy horror movie? One that doesn’t really stand out from the myriad of other early 80s horror films? Yes on both counts. But goddammit I’ve got Shudder so I’m going to watch it. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun one for a Friday night, whether you’ve got a Totino’s and a Mountain Dew or not.

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