Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Mausoleum’ (1983)

“Therefore, did the demon extricate itself from the crown of thorns at the parting of the confines of the outer rim area of Hell, and was rewarded with the eternal possession of the first female born of the family known as Nomed. Once having left the mausoleum, the demon is one with the possessed and can only be returned to rest by the first born, having reunited the demon with the crown of thorns. And lest we forget, no Nomed woman must enter the sanctuary of the mausoleum.”

That’s actual dialogue from the 1983 movie, Mausoleum, and if you think that’s a bunch of overblown nonsense, you’re right. Coherence and logic are not this movie’s strong points. Mausoleum giddily dances widdershins into the void of its own inanity until it finally disappears into itself, leaving the viewer confused and slightly irritated, like a hungry chihuahua with a foot rash.

First of all, yes, the family’s last name is Nomed, and if you haven’t read that word backwards yet, you totally should. Can you hear the screenwriters chortling at the smell of their own cleverness? For the Nomeds, possession is a generational curse. They have their own personal demon, someone to steal their souls, someone who’s old. This has been happening to the Nomed women since the 1600s.

As a child at her mother’s funeral, Susan (Bobbie Bresee) did the unthinkable and ventured into the forbidden mausoleum, where she discovered the crypt where the family fantasm lives. This is the same demon that killed her mother. Susan’s eyes began to glow green, the first sure sign of demonic infestation. Although this happens when she’s ten years old, the demon lies dormant within until Susan turns 30. She’s married to professional briefcase carrier Oliver (Marjoe Gortner) and has a palatial home, complete with housekeeper (La Wanda Page) and gardener (Maurice Sherbanee).

It’s a known fact that harboring a demon makes a girl hot to trot, and Susan begins acting on those naughty impulses. Oliver comes home from a hard day doing whatever he does and finds her reclining in front of the fireplace, wearing a silk bathrobe. “I’ve never seen you like this before,” he says. He’s never seen his wife lying down? What kind of marriage is this? Man, just because I was alive during the 1980s doesn’t mean I understand them. There’s also a scene where Susan takes a bubble bath while wearing a pair of white granny panties. I guess the Reagan years were hard on everyone.

Susan also seduces the gardener and murders him with a trowel in the toolshed. Her Aunt Cora comes to visit (not a euphemism) and Susan makes her levitate before psychically ripping her chest open, exposing her ribs. The demon inside Susan commits a lot of bloody murder, and though we never see her cleaning up after herself, there’s no evidence of a crime being committed. There should be lungs and offal all over the foyer after Cora’s The Fury-like demise, but nope! The powers of Hell must also include mopping.

Once Oliver finally starts to suspect something might be amiss with his wife, he encourages her to visit the family psychiatrist, Simon (the gloriously wasted Norman Burton). Simon hypnotizes Susan. The demon appears, growling and hissing, making slightly aggressive comments. Simon simply wakes Susan from her trance. For the first time in history, this is a demon that can be hypnotized. Why didn’t Simon plant some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion? “Hey, Susan, don’t let the demon out anymore. Hey, demon, you’re going to take a nice long nap.” Instead, Simon freaks out. Forget training! Ignore that degree he spent years obtaining! Even though he has just shown that he can control the monster through the power of hypnosis, he decides to follow that arcane, vaguely described ritual about the crown of thorns. Way to go, science!

Did I mention the scene where Susan eats a guy with her boobs? Because that happens.

Lighting designer John Murray and director Michael Dugan bring an Argento-esque color palette to the film, with bold greens and pale blues, elevating the look of the film past its obviously low budget. The special makeup effects by John Carl Buechler are outstanding. No CGI here, kids, and in that respect, Mausoleum is a lost treasure for old-school gorehounds.

The print streaming on Prime is not the best; I don’t believe it has been touched by the remasterer’s hand. It’s grimy, grainy, and flecked with green scratches. but perhaps that’s the best way to experience a movie like Mausoleum. Some things just aren’t as much fun when they’re clean.

And this is not a clean movie. Yes, Mausoleum is screechingly terrible. The story is a dribbling mess. The performances, with the exception of Norman Burton who manages to keep a straight face throughout the whole thing, are on par with a Vacation Bible School puppet show. Yet, even with everything the film does to sabotage itself, it is not to be despised. The direction is ambitious, Buechler’s monster work is delightful, and the ending lives on the highest shelf of ridiculousness.

If you like your horror bloody, mostly naked, and thirty some odd years old, then Mausoleum might be the perfect way to kill some time. It’s on Prime Video right now, for your video priming.

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