Fangoria Frightfest 2010: Dark House (2009)
Ok; where to start. I’ll first start by saying that DARK HOUSE is a fun movie. It’s a pretty flawed but overall fun film that is part of the Fangoria Frightfest 2010 lineup. The story is about eccentric haunted house creator Walston (the always great Jeffrey Combs) who has lost his edge with his critics so he decides that his next haunted house needs to be built in a “house with a history” and needs to be balls-to-the-wall scary. Walston finds the perfect house where 14 years ago seven foster children were killed by their foster mom (who then proceeded to shove her hand into the garbage disposal). Walston and crew set the house up with all the latest technology, including a state-of-the-art holographic computer, and then hires the acting troupe from the local college (which of course includes one girl with a troubled past).
Let’s stop right here. Does this sound at all familiar? Well it should. DARK HOUSE basically steals from both the 1959 and 1999 versions of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (the remake also starred Jeffrey Combs). Combs’ character in DARK HOUSE will totally remind you of the Stephen Price character (played by Geoffrey Rush) from the 1999 HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Combs even has the facial hair). The set-up here is nothing new but DARK HOUSE has a pretty fun energy to it and writer-director Darin Scott does a damn good job in creating a nice creepy atmosphere. DARK HOUSE doesn’t blaze any new ground but it’s pretty fun nonetheless.
Claire (Meghan Ory) is the standard troubled-girl-with-a-past that is somehow connected to the house’s grotesque past. As the film progresses we learn more and more about Claire’s connection to the house and along the way get some solid scares. The ghosts/dark force of the house almost immediately “hack” into the holographic computer and create some scary-ass holograms than come to life and start 86ing the cast one by one. This part was fun; every hologram was a different creature/killer that offed a cast member in some pretty cool ways. But the bad thing is that everything is done in the very typical “haunted house movie” style. By the time the cast realizes there’s something wrong with the house there’s only a few of them left to try and figure out how to get to safety. There’s some fun moments but there’s definitely nothing new going on here.
There isn’t a lot of gore along the way, but there’s a lot of violence. We do get some good old fashioned decapitations and bodies being torn apart, but the really chilling scenes are the flashbacks of Mrs. Darrode (Diane Salinger) chasing around the foster kids and butchering them. It’s not often we get the taboo of children getting murdered on screen, and here we get it in spades. Nice touch. I also like that director Scott utilizes both practical and digital f/x here. We obviously get digital f/x for the holograms, but most of the creatures are practical and they look great.
The final act throws a twist at us that you can see coming but which surprisingly works (kind of). The ending (or should I say first ending) offers us a non-supernatural explanation for all the killing that has been going on and it centers around Claire. I really liked this little twist because it made DARK HOUSE stand out from the standard “haunted house with a past” flick. But then they had to go and ruin it by giving us a second ending which then goes back to a supernatural cause for the murders. This second ending felt totally tacked on and added nothing to the film other than to clumsily attempt to setup a sequel. Blech.
DARK HOUSE won’t be on anyone’s “Best of” lists but it’s a fun horror film that was smart enough to put Jeffrey Combs in the lead role, has good performances from the cast, and has some pretty fun, scary moments. This is nothing you haven’t seen before but director Scott keeps everything moving at such a nice pace that you’ll forgive some of the shortcomings. I caught it on one of the pay channels the other night and recommend if you come across it that way to give it a shot. I know this isn’t a raving recommendation but that’s all DARK HOUSE is gonna get outta me!!
Director: Darin Scott (& wrote screenplay)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer