House of Mortal Sin (1976)

aka The Confessional
Article 2775 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-12-2008
Posting Date: 3-19-2009
Directed by Pete Walker
Featuring Anthony Sharp, Susan Penhaligon, Stephanie Beacham
Country: UK

A distraught young woman finds herself confessing her sins to a priest who becomes obsessed with her, and who undertakes drastic measures (including murder) to save her soul.

Having just read “English Gothic”, a history of the British horror film, I got a chance to gain a perspective of what Pete Walker’s horror movies were trying to accomplish and the climate in which they were made. As a result, I found myself going into this movie with a more sympathetic outlook than I might otherwise have had. I ended up being quite impressed with this one; it’s one of those horror movies that tries to be about something more than just scaring people. On one level, it’s about how a madman can avoid suspicion by dint of his being in a profession that is supposedly above suspicion (the priesthood, in this case) and by proving to be a consummate liar; whenever the priest starts to lie, it’s easy to see why practically everyone believes him. It’s also one of the saddest horror movies I’ve ever seen; practically every character has had a traumatically unhappy life or will have one by the end of the movie. The acting is strong throughout, and the script does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters; you end up having strong feelings about every character, and seemingly one dimensional characters (such as the one-eyed housekeeper) turn out to have histories that make you understand (if not approve) their actions. For me, the only time the film really fumbles is when it stoops to horror cliches; in particular, having the thunderstorm raging outside smacks of a certain overbearing convenience. Anthony Sharp plays the psychotic priest, and he does a fine job, but I’ll always wonder what it would have been like had Peter Cushing (who was originally approached for the role but had other film commitments) had played it.


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