- Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder (1970) movie review: In her final film, veteran Miriam Hopkins proves that her star charisma remained undiminished after more than four decades in the business. Unfortunately, this cheaply made Sunset Blvd.-ish thriller wasn’t the right showcase for it.
Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder movie review: Early 1930s Paramount star Miriam Hopkins gives it all as a late 1960s Norma Desmond
Hollywood Horror House is the title of the home video/DVD edition of the little-seen, micro-budget 1970 indie Savage Intruder (a.k.a. The Comeback, its production title), which was briefly released in 1975.
In what turned out to be her final big-screen role, former Paramount, Goldwyn, and Warner Bros. star Miriam Hopkins (Best Actress Oscar nominee for Becky Sharp, 1935) plays drunken, washed-up movie queen Katherine Packard, a Norma Desmond type living in a decaying mansion in the Hollywood Hills, where she spends her time watching her old movies while referring to herself in the third person.
John David Garfield (son of 1940s Warners contract star John Garfield) plays the young psychopath/”nurse” who, after being hired to take care of the ailing ex-star, ends up seducing her.
Two other notable Hollywood Horror House cast members are Minta Durfee – at one point the wife of ostracized silent era comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle – in a brief role, and the very first Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner, Gale Sondergaard (Anthony Adverse, 1936), as the mysterious housekeeper Lez (that is her [nick]name), who is justifiably suspicious of the new nurse.
Despite writer-director-producer Donald Wolfe’s inconsistent handling of the material and the film’s minuscule budget, Hollywood Horror House has some interesting things to say about the decadence of late-1960s Hollywood.
For instance, in an early scene a tour bus cruising the Hollywood Hills must come to a halt so a little girl can step outside to puke. Later on, Old Hollywood is contrasted with New Hollywood through numerous scenes of hippies and assorted rebellious youth thriving in a place that used to stand for style and glamour.
On the downside, the whole production cries out for some serious editing and faster pacing to make the suspense more compelling. In fact, a pair of sharp scissors were needed during the long, annoying music-cacophony sequences.
Of note, the Hollywood Horror House shenanigans were filmed at the alleged estate of former silent era superstar Norma Talmadge (The Lady, Camille).
Also noteworthy, the film was one of the last in the “horror hags” cycle (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, etc.).
Nearly four decades after its production, it has become a curiosity piece.
Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder / The Comeback (1970) cast & crew
Direction & Screenplay: Donald Wolfe.
Cast: Miriam Hopkins, John David Garfield (a.k.a. David Garfield), Gale Sondergaard, Florence Lake, Lester Matthews, Joe Besser, Virginia Wing, Riza Royce, Charles G. Martin, Minta Durfee, Bill Welsh.
Cinematography: John Arthur Morrill.
Film Editing: Hartwig Deeb.
Music: Stu Phillips.
Production Design: Normand Houie.
Producer: Donald Wolfe.
Production Company: Congdon Productions.
Distributor: Joseph Brenner Associates (1975).
Running Time: 91 min.
Country: United States.
“Hollywood Horror House (1970) Movie Review: Miriam Hopkins’ Decadent Swan Song” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder (1970) Movie Review” notes
Norma Talmadge Estate?
 According to Norma Talmadge researcher Greta de Groat and author Allan Ellenberger, currently working on a Miriam Hopkins biography, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Norma Talmadge actually had any connection to the so-called Norma Talmadge Estate, a.k.a. The Cedars.
Director Maurice Tourneur (The Last of the Mohicans) reportedly had it developed in the early 1920s, and silent film star Madge Bellamy (The Iron Horse) once lived there.
“Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder (1970) Movie Review” endnotes
Hollywood Horror House was released two years after Miriam Hopkins’ death in October 1972, nine days before her 70th birthday.
Today, Hopkins is remembered for movies like Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Becky Sharp, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Smiling Lieutenant and Trouble in Paradise, and William Wyler’s These Three and The Children’s Hour; for her explosive temper and professional demands; and for her notorious on-set fights with Bette Davis, her costar in Edmund Goulding’s The Old Maid and Vincent Sherman’s Old Acquaintance.
Recent Hollywood tragedies
Hollywood Horror House was shot about two years after the killing of silent era icon Ramon Novarro (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ) at his Laurel Canyon home atop the Hollywood Hills, and the year after the murder of actress Sharon Tate and three of her guests at Tate and husband Roman Polanski’s Beverly Crest home adjacent to Beverly Hills.
The older sister of actor Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead in the Blondie movie series), Hollywood Horror House cast member Florence Lake was a minor actress in dozens of features and shorts, beginning in the late 1920s.
Lester Matthews (at times billed as Lester Mathews – one “t”) was seen in about 150 features from the early 1930s onwards, while Riza Royce was a minor actress better known as the (late 1920s) wife of two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josef von Sternberg (Morocco, 1930–31; Shanghai Express, 1931–32).
Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder movie credits via the IMDb.
Miriam Hopkins Hollywood Horror House movie image: Full Moon Pictures.
“Hollywood Horror House / Savage Intruder (1970) Movie Review: Miriam Hopkins’ Decadent Swan Song” last updated in January 2023.
It’s been about a year since I last watched this film but what a fascinating film it is. Sure it would not (and did not) win any awards but watching Miriam Hopkins chew up the scenery is a blast. It’s sort of like “Sunset Blvd.” meets “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” It would be interesting to know what possessed Miriam to do it. Maybe she thought this would be HER “Baby Jane” and be as successful for her as WHTBJ was for Bette Davis. Sadly, Miriam probably never got a chance to see it since it never reached theaters until two years after her death. Perhaps it’s just as well.