Olivia McKenna (Melissa Newman) can’t sleep at night. She is plagued by nightmares about a young female hitchhiker being murdered by a maniac. That maniac just happens to be Olivia’s father, a notorious Russian psychic called Raymar whom the Los Angeles police discover lying dead in his apartment alongside the withered corpses of six girls. After his body is entombed in the local mausoleum, Olivia and her sceptical husband Alan (TV’s Batman, Adam West sadly bereft of his utility belt) are approached by occult writer Dockstader (Donald Hotton) who warns Raymar was a psychic vampire able to absorb energy from the living to prolong his own lifespan.
Meanwhile, nice college girl Julie (Meg Tilly) wants to join the sorority led by bitchy Carol (Robin Evans), who is jealous the former snagged her ex-boyfriend Steve (David Mason Daniels). As part of the initiation, Carol and her sorority sisters Leslie (E.G. Daily) and Kitty (Leslie Speights) dare Julie to spend the night in the mausoleum. Although Leslie has a change of heart, Carol and Kitty slip Julie an hallucinogenic drug and sneak into the mausoleum to ensure she has a traumatic night. The three girls are thus trapped as Raymar wreaks evil from beyond the grave.
This little known but very suspenseful Eighties horror gem also goes by the name Mausoleum. The first half carries a pleasingly off-kilter, dreamlike atmosphere as Olivia endures psychic premonitions of the mayhem that will unfold. Tom McLoughlin glides his camera across the cemetery and through the labyrinthine mausoleum, while the brooding score by Bob Summers enhances the eerie ambience. Aside from helming the worthless Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), McLoughlin went on to a prolific career in television movies but based on this evidence should have done more on the big screen. The script has cheesy elements being laden with pseudo-scientific gobbledygook about “bio-energy” and “psychic vampirism”, but such eccentric imagination lifts it above the glut of Eighties slasher movies.
Once the action hits the mausoleum the film adopts a more conventional rollercoaster structure, laden with flashy latex and optical effects. However, these ably serve the nightmarish tone without overwhelming the film. McLoughlin deftly handles the twin plot strands and laces the film with potent shocks. A fresh-faced young Meg Tilly has less to do than you might think, but makes a compelling protagonist. Julie’s motivation is solid in that she wants to prove her mettle after a lifetime of being thought of as a drip. It’s an almost wholly female centred film. Aside from Tilly’s strand the bulk concerns bad girl Robin Evans being menaced by maggot-ridden reanimated corpses and the laser-spewing psychic zombie, while Melissa Newman tackles the traditional Peter Cushing type role with a winning conviction. Amidst the eccentric supporting cast, Elizabeth Daily went on to small roles in Streets of Fire (1985) and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1986), before going on to become a prolific voice artist in things like Rugrats and The Powerpuff Girls, and lookout for Kevin Peter Hall who filled the monster costume in Predator (1987). Then there is Adam West, solid in one of his rare straight roles though part of me was wishing he’d don the cowl and say: “I’ll repel them with my Bat zombie-repellent spray”, or something.