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House of Mortal Sin (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Pete Walker
Writer: David McGillivrayPete Walker
Cast: Anthony SharpSusan Penhaligon, and Stephanie Beacham
Year: 1976
Length: 104 min
Rating: R
Region: 1
Disks: 1
Label: Kino Lorber Redemption
Release Date: June 17, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: None

Extras
  • Audio Commentary with Pete Walker and author Jonathan Rigby
  • Pete Walker: An Eye for Terror, Part 2Contiuing the interview that began on Die Screaming Marianne

81JLqbwEguL._SL1500_By the year 1976, British director Pete Walker was making a name for himself in the realm of low-budget horror. The filmmaker successfully transitioned from sexploitation to straight up horror throughout the early part of the 1970’s and was certainly earning a reputation from critics as a director who was not afraid to touch on controversial themes in his work. In 1974, he appalled critics and audiences with his attack on the British justice system in House of Whipcord. In the same year, he followed up with another wry stab at British justice when he cast Sheila Keith as the cannibalistic, drill-wielding grandmother in Frightmare. Not being one to rest on his laurels, Walker returned just two years later in 1976 with House of Mortal Sin, aka The Confessional; a film that cast its satirical eye on religion and the Catholic Church. Walker teamed up with scriptwriter David McGillivray—their third collaboration. This feature—along with the two aforementioned films and the later release Schizo (1976)—demonstrates how this pairing produced some of Walker’s most interesting and shocking work. Walker’s work took a slightly different, less pessimistic direction when the two parted ways. The film is delivered this time on a beautifully restored Blu-Ray release from Kino/Redemption as part of their ongoing series of Walker releases.

Film

Boasting the tagline “Tortured by desires his vows forbid… master of a house of mortal sin!” on the promotional material at the time of its release, House of Mortal Sin was a daring film for mid-seventies Britain. The story focuses on Father Xavier Meldrum, a local priest who stalks young vulnerable women in his parish and uses blackmail to make them submit to his will. The father is a cunning man of power who seeks to abuse those in his care for his own selfish ends. When an unaware Jenny Welch accidently stumbles into Meldrum’s confession box, she finds herself at the receiving end of some very unusual questions involving her sex life from the Catholic Priest. Little does she know but this chance meeting is about to set about a chain of events that will see her become Meldrum’s latest obsession, and put those close to her in severe danger.

House of Mortal Sin has to be one of Walker’s most thought-provoking efforts. An extremely dark and nihilistic film, the gloomy vibe and bizarre characterisations make for an unsettling watch that may be a depressing experience for some. Indeed the film begins on a downbeat note with a teen suicide, and does little to pick up the mood from thereinafter. Although, for those who understand the deep, dark British sense of humor, there are some moments of black comedy to be found in some of the scenes—especially in the dialogue contained therein.

Following a proto-slasher format—without any overtly sexual scenes—the film is not without its moments of raw violence. The filmmaker continued to push the envelope, in terms of graphic brutality, with each new release. If one compares this to one of his earliest horror efforts—for example, The Flesh and Blood Show that was more flesh, less blood—there is an obvious progression as Walker moved away from the sexploitation angle rife in his earlier work. He began placing more of an onus of blood and violence as he moved further into horror. With the previous release Frightmare featuring a murderous old lady at the helm, it would seem there was not much further Walker could go to raise the bar on shock value. That is until he hit on the idea of focusing on the touchy subject of hypocrisy in the church, and factored in a lecherous priest as his main villain.

Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Despite being desperate and vicious in tone, there are important messages here. Even if you strip those subliminal messages aside—the ones that revolve around Walker’s own views on Catholicism—as a thriller the feature is especially taught and convincing. Using killer POV shots, heavy breathing, and some fantastic use of lighting, Walker and his faithful cinematographer, Peter Jessop, do a wonderful job capturing atmosphere. This technical skill is most evident in the film’s climatic scenes. The effects are gruesome—especially considering their age—and there are some innovative elements added into the narrative to bring flavour to the proceedings: poisoned communion wafers, dead bodies stuffed into open graves, and grizzly stabbings alike.

Within his stark vision, Walker—with the scriptwriting talents of McGillivray—neatly wraps his characters in intricate layers, especially when it comes to the villains of the piece.  Anthony Sharp stars as Meldrum, the cold and callous priest who is tortured by feelings brought on by his sexual repression; Sharp playing out his part to perfection, utilizing an almost split personality in his portrayal as caring community leader versus the cold-hearted sociopath. The performance here is highly convincing and absorbing. Walker drafts in Sheila Keith once again—one of his favourite actresses who he worked with on five of his films—as Meldrum’s housekeeper, Ms. Brabazon. Keith’s role is limited, and she does not appear for at least half an hour, however when she does her talent commands all attention. Ms. Brabazon, although a supporting role, has demons of her own, and Keith pulls out all the stops in playing out some immensely uncomfortable scenes. Of all the roles Keith played for Walker Brabazon has to be the most tragic, and her final scenes play out with an air of sentimentality that elicits sympathy for her character. Susan Penhaligon as Jenny Welch makes for a convincing wide-eyed victim, and Stephanie Beecham gives a solid rendition of supportive and caring sister Vanessa. Norman Eshley as young priest Father Bernard Cutler seems to be the strangest of the characters, doing little to add to the narrative other than provide a link to Jenny and the church. That said, he did well within his part and any limitations are strictly due to the plot.

Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Video

This title is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen format, and is upgraded to high definition (1080p) from the original 35mm print. Redemption exercise their low interference policy avoiding the use of DNS processes where possible. The picture here is fantastic in terms of quality when compared to previous DVD releases. The print is not flawless, but appears to have been taken from a good quality master and, as a result, retains its deep grain and gritty feel, with slight scratching and small elements of dust appearing here and there. Thankfully, the upgrade has been handled with respect and, as such, retains its entire original flavor. Walker films have a strong, dirty 70s feel and to over digitize a print like this could well result in a completely different ambiance. The colors look naturalistic and there is no evidence of major damage, leaving the details crystal clear.

Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Audio

Again, in line with the other Redemption Pete Walker releases, the film carries its original LPCM Mono track. This fits the original feel of the film, and is presented in a clearly mixed and good quality audio maintaining quality across all registers. This release appears to carry the same commentary track from the UK Pete Walker DVD box set. The conversation takes place between author Jonathan Rigby and Director Pete Walker.  Although not original material, this is a highly valuable companion piece nevertheless. Walker talks generously about his time spent making the film, the themes contained in the story and the aftermath, and controversy that followed.

Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Extras

Low on extras, this comes with th 11 minute interview with Pete Walker, An Eye for Terror Part 2—Part 1 is included on the Die Screaming Marianne release. Walker discusses his career in this short but sweet vignette. As in other interviews, Walker is unrepentant about his work and talks proudly about the features he made. There are also some Pete Walker trailers included for his other films in the series.

Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

Walker is a British filmmaker who likes to challenge general opinion, and this is one feature within which this attitude is at its most prominent. Tackling themes such as hypocrisy in the church and adding in some subverted sexuality, House of Mortal Sin was a courageous film for its time. One of Walker’s moodier works, it lacks the nudity of his earlier career but makes up for this by giving more emphasis to the violence and gore. It works on a number of layers, both as a thriller and proto-slasher, but also as a satirical statement. For fans of Walker, the upgrade is of great quality that does not compromise on delivering the film as faithfully as possible; another great addition to the on-going Redemption Pete Walker series of releases to Blu-Ray.

By the year 1976, British director Pete Walker was making a name for himself in the realm of low-budget horror. The filmmaker successfully transitioned from sexploitation…

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About Kat Ellinger

Kat Ellinger is the Editor-in-Chief at Diabolique Magazine, and the co-host of their Daughters of Darkness and Hell's Belles podcasts. She has also written for BFI, Senses of Cinema, Fangoria and Scream Magazine, and provided various home video supplements, commentary, liner notes, on camera interviews and audio essays, for a number of companies including Arrow Films, Kino Lorber, Indicator, Second Run and Cult Films. Kat is the author of Daughters of Darkness (Devil's Advocates, Auteur), and All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow Films).

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