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House of Mortal Sin (1976)

Mortal2 Cinedelica loves cult British movies and maverick directors, so it's no surprise to see the name Pete Walker crop up here on numerous occasions, both for his sexploitation flicks (like Cool It Carol) or his cult horrors from the 70s (ranging from The Flesh and Blood Show through to The Comeback). But between those latter two movies, Walker produced some of his finest moments, including House of Mortal Sin.

House of Mortal Sin is probably entry-level Pete Walker, less sex, less gruesome horror and death (although it does have its moments), but with a more considered storyline that doesn't quite go the way you expect from the first minute to the last. Things kick off with the suicide of a pregnant teenager - after confessing her sins to the local Roman Catholic priest, Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp). Are these two incidents related? read on.


Next on screen is Father Bernard Cutler (the always-excellent Norman Eshley). He's recently been a man about town, but has ditched that lifestyle for the church. On a chance meeting, he bumps into old friend Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon), before meeting her sister (and old flame) Vanessa Welch (Stephanie Beacham). To cut a long story short, he needs digs, so moves in with them, working at the local church (in Richmond) with Father Meldrum. Which is where things get nasty.

Jennny's 'showbiz' boyfriend has left her and she's in a state. Looking to Father Cutler for comfort, she accidentally goes to confession with Father Meldrum. And he's not like your average priest (at least, I hope not). He records her confession, using the tape to get control of her. And he's none too keen on other men near her - bumping off one suitor with a coffee pot and another with an incense burner. A further killing is via the roasary beads - but I'll leave the identity of that one for you to discover. Although you might guess a good 10 minutes before it happens.

Jenny knows that he's trying to take advantage of her and indeed is killing off others in her life - but as a respected priest, Meldrum isn't an easy man to implicate. Will he be stopped before he kills off everyone on Jenny's life? And what's the story behind the priest's one-eyed housekeeper (Sheila Keith) and his silent mother? All will be revealed before a strange and I would suspect, largely unexpected finale. Don't expect a happy ending, that's all I'll say.

I don't think many Pete Walker fans would class House of Mortal Sin as his best (Frightmare and House of Whipcord would probably top that poll), but it is a good starting point. The excess is toned down for some good old-fashioned psychological horror and when the blood does flow, it has more impact for its rarity. Having a great cast helps too - Anthony Sharp and Sheila Keith are superb as the mad priest and his housekeeper, while the 'young' generation of Beacham, Penhaligon and Eshley give it a contemporary rather than gothic feel (well, as contemporary as 1976 gets for the modern audience).

Sadly House of Mortal Sin isn't available to buy in the UK, although you can rent it from one of the numerous online DVD stores from its last reissue. I'd recommend you do - a great way to spend 104 minutes of your life and a nice first step into the work of a much underrated British director.


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