starring Jeffrey Combs, Meghan Ory, Diane Salinger
directed by Darin Scott
screenplay by Darin Scott & Kerry Douglas Dye
Fatal Frame Pictures (2008)
I made the mistake of thinking this was going to be a straight-up horror movie. Then, in the first five minutes I realized I was about to sit through ninety minutes of campy, cheesy, body count horror. Half the movie is played for laughs, which is fine, but that was not how it was promoted when I saw the trailer months ago. I expected something very raw and very intense, and ultimately wound up seeing a disjointed plot held together by over-the-top performances.
On a quiet little street there's a house, one of those Victorian style abodes that wreak of the past just by looking at them. Some girls are gawking at it from the front steps, talking about how it's haunted. One of the girls breaks from the pack to venture inside and witnesses a massacre, dead kids on the floor and a disheveled old woman dying at the kitchen sink--her hands plunged into the garbage disposal. From there, we jump ahead about fifteen years to a high school drama club where pretty teenagers are being all angst-y and cynic-y.
At this point the movie is veering from mediocre to terrible with stock characters all chiding each other. There's the jock, the token black guy who doubles as the nerd, the annoying geek, the goth chick, the ditzy blond, and the quiet brooding brunette. I feared I was in for ninety minutes of insufferably lazy writing and bad acting, and then Jeffrey Combs shows up.
Combs plays a flamboyantly self-aggrandizing theme park promoter in search of last-minute acting talent. His new haunted house attraction, Dark House (oh my god, that's the title of the movie!), is to be visited by a couple of reporters to review the place, and so hires the six teens to roleplay for the night and possibly get hired on for the summer. The twist? It's the same house where all those murders occurred years ago. The running thread is that the brooding brunette (Meghan Ory) witnessed the murders and is adviced by her shrink to revisit the place to regain her memories and gain some closure. So, when the other teens show hesitation about the gig, she talks them into signing on.
Jump to the house and the ridiculously elaborate hologram effects that provide the haunted house scares. Beyond this point, you really need to shut off the reasoning center of your brain. The ghost in the house becomes a computer virus--don't ask me how--and infects the mainframe that controls all of the effects. And then the mayhem begins with the characters in the film dropping like flies at the hands of various stereotypical holographic characters turned corporeal.
There is hardly any suspense, and almost no emotional attachment to a single character. I suppose I'm meant to give a damn about the brunette, but she's not overly likeable. The only one I rooted to make it to the end of the movie was Jeffrey Combs because his performance was so deliciously Vaudevillian, something akin to Vincent Price at his campiest. His blending of confused outrage and self-absorbed panic is just damned fun to watch. The rest of the cast was cannon fodder as far as I was concerned.
This is the first of eight films I've seen as part of Fangoria's Frightfest. It's not exactly a strong start out of the gate, but it's by no means the worst horror movie I've seen this year. It's kind of fun, not very scary, thankfully more tongue-in-cheek than I originally expected, and the ridiculously convoluted ending is forgivable.