Richard Basehart was possibly best known as the hero from the long running 60’s TV series Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and was last heard as the voice of the narrator on 80’s show Knight Rider. But in 1976 Richard Basehart appeared in a movie so out of character, and even now so disturbing; that for many people his hero reputations was left in tatters.
Nancy Chaney it seems has everything going for her; she is young, beautiful and has a loving boyfriend. Her one real love is swimming, and thinks nothing more of swimming in the pool on her family estate. Tragically for Nancy the pool on one particular day had been over chlorinated and opening her eyes under the water results in her becoming unexpectedly blind. Hoping that her eyesight will return is a vein hope, and it falls upon her father eminent eye surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney to look at revolutionary methods to restore his beloved daughter’s eyes.
When eye transplants fail from the bodies of the dead, Chaney decides that a live victim is needed to ensure the restored vision of Nancy, setting his sights on his daughter’s boyfriend Dr. Dan Bryon (Lance Henrikson) he steals Bryon’s eyes and enslaves him in a cell beneath the families’ mansion. But when this transplant fails it’s down to Chaney and his wife Katherine (Gloria Graham) to find more unwilling donors.
Initially known in the UK as Massacre Mansion, Mansion Of The Doomed is one of those commonly available movies that nobody seems to have seen. When VIPCO revived sales in the early 1990’s one of the first releases was Massacre Mansion which had the delightful image of a hand clutching eyes on the front cover. This release by low budget movie company Digital Entertainment Ltd, is a sad effort, featuring absolutely no preservation or special features. The imagery has sadly deteriorated over time and has a nasty green tinge to it, and at times is incredibly difficult to watch. Even with these big issues to contend with Mansion Of The Doomed is a pretty good horror offering with credible performances from both Basehart and Graham in leading roles.
Made on a shoestring budget, a fact that is fairly evident from the first few minutes of viewing; I guess this could also be the reason why the movies quality has deteriorated so badly. While nothing wobbles or is taped together there are a limited number of filming locations featured in the movie, a fact I guess you might overlook if you were not as eagle eyed as myself. The one occasion that the movie heads off “on location” so to speak, you see Basehart walking through a market area, which is strangely deserted.
For an American movie offering for its day its pretty disturbing stuff, covering the most bizarre of areas. In one particular scene Basehart’s crazed doctor tricks a very young girl into a trip to Disneyland in order to get his hands on her eyes, and even though you realise this is his intention you have to ask yourself if this is really happening.
You do get to a stage in the movie where regardless of the harsh subject matter you begin to see great humour, as more and more eye transplants fail, more and more prisoners become stored in the underground cell with Chaney telling them, that not only is he sorry but that one day he will return their eyesight, while slightly fierce Katherine suggests a better resolution for how to deal with events “Kill them!” she states, in a slightly insane manner.
The harsh side of the movie is that you do get to spend a considerable amount of time with his victims, and in one scene the harsh reality of waking from anaesthetic to discover that someone has taken your eyes. The result of increasing pile up of unwilling donors of course results in misery, further discontent, and craziness. Into this darker aspect of the story of course comes the inevitable unintentional humour as each and every person that Chaney encounters becomes a potential donor in the quest to return Nancy’s eyes.