5/24/10

The movie Chuck Norris hopes you never see: Dr. Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill

Back in 1973, a rather desperate young actor / martial arts fighter  by the name of  Chuck Norris was offered a lead role in what he was told would be a low budget  horror movie.  Eager to make a name as big as Bruce Lee's (or maybe Christoper Lee), Norris signed on the dotted line and found himself contractually obligated to appear in a film that would have the mouthful-of-a-title, Dr Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill.

Almost immediately, Norris realized he had made a bad choice. On the first day of filming in Encino California, Norris was perplexed over the seemingly random changes made in the script, what also vexed him was the fact that several sections of the manuscript were missing.  Upon speaking to the film's director, George Schultz, Norris was assured that the scenes in question were just being "punched up" a bit by a script doctor.   According to insiders on the set, when Norris was told that his first scene was changed, and that he'd have to strip down to his skivvies, and be bound to a bed, he almost walked off the set until Schultz assured him that the entire scene was going to be tastefully shot.

Ever the trooper, Norris obliged his director, and once he was bed-bound, and the cameras began to roll, even Norris could not believe what he was in for.  Instantly, Schultz called in "the extras" and the room was filled with ten naked women and ten naked men who surrounded the bed and began chanting in Latin.  A cameraman on the set claimed that Norris broke character and said, "What the fuck is this shit, where's my leading lady?  When do I get to kick someone?"

Things got even more heated the next day when Pam Grier came to the set and upon laying eyes on her costar was reported to have said, "Who the hell are you?  I was under the impression that Billy Dee Williams was going to be my co-star, not some half pint in cowboy boots!!"

Despite the friction, Grier and Norris eventually hit if off, and by all reports got on pretty well.  Meanwhile, director, Schultz had other plans.  Unbeknownst to his stars, Schultz was under the gun by American International Studios to deliver a money-maker by any means possible.   Realizing that his budget would not allow for special effects or more star-power, Schultz decided on inserting sexually explicit scenes in to the film in the hopes that this would bring in more people to the theaters.  He even went so far as to hire porn star, Harry Reems as well as two stand-in actors who could pass as Norris and Grier and use them in some of the sex scenes.

The rest of the history of Dr. Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill is a mishmash of conjecture and hearsay.  Grier has gone on record stating that she had no idea that she was part of a porn film, and sued the director and the studio.  However, most film scholars agree that Dr. Leather's most damning moment occurs during the infamous bondage scene, were Norris is tied down and whipped by some leather-clad women and then, seemingly, sodomized by Reems .  Norris has claimed that it was his double used in that scene, but Reems and others disagree.  One of the film's publicists claimed that she was there the day the scene was shot and said, "My hand to God, Chuck Norris took it up the ass!"
Dr. Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill was only screened once - and apparently that was enough.  It has been reported that on January 15th, 1974 when the film premiered at The 42nd Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, half the audience rose to their feet at the film's end for sixteen and one half minutes of thunderous applause, while the other half were outside of the theater screaming for their money back. 

Reviews of the film were brutal.  Vincent Canaby of The New York Times called it , "A celluloid atrocity".  Pauline Kael dismissed it as, "Garbage passing as art", and Gene Shalit went on the today show and called for the "execution of the director and everyone involved".

The alternative press was kinder, The Village Voice claimed, "Everyone should check into Dr. Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill, and make sure you get a room with Mr. Norris, he's most accommodating!" 

Once the film was pulled, it was reported that Norris and Grier pooled their resources and bought the negative and had it destroyed.  Today, neither of them will even acknowledge it's existence.  However, last year a copy of the film was reportedly up for bid on eBay, but once the bidding had reached 10000.00, the page was taken down.

Of course, you can't keep a good Hollywood scandal down:  last month it was reported that Michael Bay bought the rights to Dr. Leather's House of Torture on Haunted Hill and is going to remake it - the cast has yet to be announced.

5 comments:

Matt-suzaka said...

I always loved that cover art and only wish the film was more readily available, as in, available at all. I can see why Norris and Grier would be skeptical of the film being released to the public, but it would probably be a big boost in both of their careers.

I'm glad you brought this one up, not too many folks know about it. Have you ever heard of the one time proposed sequel, 'Dr. Denim's Shack of Corpses'? I think there were plans to do a trilogy at one point...too bad.

Aurora Hylton said...

I kind of feel sorry for them--on the other hand, the situation is quite hilarious!

Star said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carl (ILHM) said...

Nice. Those lobby cards are instant hilarity in a can!

Jack Veasey said...

In the 70s, before Norris became a vocal rightwing nutjob, I actually enjoyed his movies -- at least the scenes where his shirt was off. I could've used parts of "Lone Wolf McQuade" as soft porn. I felt the same way about Charlton Heston, even in the godawful "Omega Man" where you at least got to see him sweat like a pig...of course, I'll be relieved now when Chuck joins Charlton in whatever "paradise" guys like them go to. He's gotten scarier than any horror flick.