In a stroke of irony, renowned optometrist surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney had a car accident that accidently causes his young adult daughter permanent blindness. Obsessed by guilt and determined for her to see again, Chaney moves toward a not only radical procedure but also unethical one of a full eye transplant. The catch for this type of surgery to be successful is the eye has to be extracted from a living patient. Unwilling to wait for a donor, Chaney employs every deceptive tactic to lure unwillingly healthy and beautiful globular organ donors into his dark basement where he drugs them unconscious, surgically plucks out their entire eyes, and leaves them locked in a cellar cage, blind and crudely healed with scar tissue but still alive. With each failed attempt at restoring her eyesight, the reminders of his experiments linger down below, screaming in pain, and pleading for their lives. Soon, those pleas will ultimately catch up to him.
Before his fascination with mini-sized maniacs of killer animated toys and malicious experimental oddities, Charles Band used to produce other types of original horror and the “Mansion of the Doomed” was one of them. The 1976 Frank Ray Perilli (“Dracula’s Dog,” “Alligator”) written and the “Dead & Buried” and “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” actor Michael Pataki directed mad surgeon “Mansion of the Doomed” was the first feature film Charles Band officially stamped his actual name onto along with father and western screenwriter, Albert Band, as financial executive producer. While “Mansion of the Doom” is known by various other titles around the world – “Massacre Mansion,” “Eyes,” “Eyes of Dr. Chaney,” “House of Blood,” “Eyes of the Living Dead,” and “The Terror of Dr. Chaney” – the one aspect that the film is firm in is its Hancock Park and estate shooting location in Los Angeles as one of the very first features to come out of Charles Band Productions company.
Lance Henriksen. You know name, right? Sounds familiar, yes? The “Aliens” and “Pumpkinhead” actor, hot off the success of “Dog Day Afternoon” with Al Pacino, begins his tour de force of horror and dark science fiction with the Pataki mad doctor eye opener. Dr. Chaney uses his misguided experimental expertise first on Dr. Dan Bryan, played by Henriksen, after Dr. Bryan’s recent romantic relationship breakoff with the recently blind daughter of Dr. Chaney, Nancy (Trish Stewart). Before he became the narrating voice in TV’s “Knight Rider,” the veteran actor Richard Basehart, who also had a role in the 1977 “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” became his own inhumane medical malpractice physician in Dr. Chaney. Though Basehart makes for the epitome of a professional doctor, his performance was the weakest link in the cast’s locks that didn’t exhibit the stress and desperation of a man continuously exploiting and disfiguring people for his own personal guilt release. The guilt was not compounding as much as the story wanted to suggest, but we feel more empathetic to Dr. Chaney’s longtime assistant in Gloria Grahame (“Blood and Lace,” “Mama’s Dirty Girls”) who we can see her character dissolve with each abducted patient and affected to the core by their sightless screams. “Mansion of the Doomed” rounds out the cast with Al Ferrera (“Dracula’s Dog”), Marilyn Joi (“Black Samurai”), Donna Andersen, JoJo D’Amore (“Dracula’s Dog”), and Katherine Stewart.
Michael Pataki’s “Mansion of the Doomed” is an eye-peeling shocker that’s dark and grim to the core and has an eye for cynicism. I could keep the eye puns going but that would be too easy to pluck out. Perilli’s story is rather plainly spoken with not a lot of fluff diving into medical or procedural jargon to bore you down into a loss of interest. Instead, the good doctor character goes right to work getting his hands elbows deep into the eye sockets of his victims and that’s how this particular exploitation perfectly crafted the balance by tabling the under stimulating medicalese with caged disfigured patients left to live in agony. Where Pataki and Perilli faltered some is in the preface by skimming the surface of the Dr. Chaney caused accident that rendered Nancy blind when she face-planted right into the doctor’s windshield as he swerves to not runover a mutt. In driver’s ed, you’re supposed to hit the small animal that runs in front of you in order for these kinds of accidents don’t happen! Told in the inner thought of a flashback, the force between the two immovable objects shatters the glass but leaves Nancy unscathed physically yet, somehow, she loses her sight in both of her eyes and while Dr. Chaney is unable to best the blindness with everything the surgical optometrist throws at it, perhaps that’s the unsolvable mystery that beleaguers abashedly an expert at the summit of their excellence. ‘Mansion of the Doomed” is not a feel-good film as not one single character has a positive outcome and having lost more than just their sight but also, to name a couple, their humanity and their hope.
Uncut, restored, and remastered onto a new Blu-ray release, Full Moon Features re-release “Mansion of the Doomed” onto 1080p, full high definition, from the original 35mm negative. Source material held up over father time with a pristine 85-minute uncut transfer to retouch in a pop of color and refine the details in a softer, more airy-soft image, presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Full Moon offers two audio options available with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a Dolby Digital 2.0 PCM. Though slightly staticky in the ambient and dialogue tracks, the balance works and is full-bodied around more essential scenes of surgery and the cries of anguish. Dialogue doesn’t sound overly boxy or hissy and the cult composer Robert O. Ragland’s (“Deep Space,” “Q”) classic orchestra score come across with a powerful range that speaks the scene without exposition. The region free Blu-ray has no extra features, leaving this release as a bare bone, feature only. “Mansion of the Doomed’s” harrowing ending induces stupefying blank stare and feels like a brick just walloped you in the face knowing that every pawn in this story loses at the hands of man disillusioned in playing God.