Wednesday, October 13, 2010
In time for Halloween, a group of new horror DVD releases have hit the stores under the banner of Fangoria Frightfest. They are all inexpensively priced, and somewhat indistinguishable outwardly in quality. I settled on Dark House as my first test subject, primarily because its cast included Jeffrey Combs (Reanimator) a genre veteran who is under-valued as an actor. I figured he’d be entertaining, at least.
Fourteen years earlier, a little girl accepts a dare from her friends to enter a spooky house where a crazy woman cares for foster children. Inside she finds a house filled with freshly murdered children, and the proprietor standing at the kitchen sink, grinding her hands away in the garbage disposal. The little girl, by the way, takes this all in rather calmly. I start getting nervous by the third butchered body I find, and I can’t stand to see someone mutilate themselves with a garbage disposal, but she takes it like a champ.
Flash forward to the movie’s present, and a now-adult girl is going to acting classes and seeing a shrink to deal with the memory of those events. The psychiatrist must have studied under Doctor Mengele, because he urges her to return to the scene of the murders to confront her fears. Oh, yeah, that’s great advice. Her opportunity to do so comes one day in acting class when Walston (Combs) shows up to hire the fledgling thespians. He makes a living off building spooky attractions, and his next project is to turn the Darrode House, where the killings occurred into Dark House (hence the title) into the greatest of his attractions. Given the lure of money, the students accept.
The group of acting students is one of the weaker parts of the movie, since they pretty much fit the stereotypes. There’s The Jock, The Slut, The Goth Chick, etc. despite the stereotypes, only a couple are annoying, so you don’t fall into the usual mode of rooting for everyone to die. They agree to play roles in the haunted house, not knowing one of their group has a history with it. Let me tell you, when the main actress is playing an actress who is supposed to be acting, you can tell she has the wrong major.
Dark House does look like the greatest haunted house ever. There are lifelike holograms that chase you down the hallways, elaborate sets, and anything else you could want in an attraction. I certainly wanted to buy a ticket. Of course, on the trial run-through, with a couple of reporters present (one from a fictional version of Fangoria, for those of you who like your stories meta), everything goes wrong. The holograms come to life, the fake traps turn deadly, and the group is diminished as they try to find a way to escape.
It doesn’t sound that great, does it? But surprisingly, I was pretty pleased with it. Combs is a delight as always, but the main thing is the makers of the movie didn’t take it overly seriously. There is a fair amount of humor, each of the characters have something to do other than die, and there are a number of in-joke references to other films (sample lines include “Be afraid. Very afraid.” and “Come with me if you want to live.”) I thought the frequent intercuts to warnings on the screens of the computers that controlled the house (FILE CORRUPTED, VIRUS ATTACK, etc.) to be useless and annoying since we know it is a supernatural threat, but nothing’s perfect.
If Dark House is a good representation of the series, I’m eager to see the others. If you’re looking for something new this Halloween, you could do worse than this one. It doesn’t set the world on fire, but it will give you an evening’s entertainment.