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.

Name a movie that Jeffrey Combs WASN'T good in ... I dare ya!!

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's a lot of wee ones who eat it in this flick!!

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.

This dude got F A C E D!!!

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!!

My Summary:

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

Fangoria Frightfest 2010: Road Kill (2010)

What is this?  I think we have something special on our hands here.  Just in case you didn’t think the After Dark Horrorfest pumped out enough sub-standard, shitty flicks along comes the Fangoria FrightFest to throw it’s hat into the ring.  This label is of course associated with Fangoria magazine, which has dominated the genre magazine scene for decades.  So why, please tell me, would they risk tarnishing their reputation by starting a label that promotes some truly bad films?  (Yes this is the first film I’m actually reviewing from this label, but I’ve already seen all the films from it’s 2010 lineup.)

This brings us to ROAD KILL, an Australian film that makes this all the more disappointing.  Australia has put out some truly scary and solid horror films like WOLF CREEK (2005), ROGUE (2007), and THE LOVED ONES (2009).  So why choose ROAD KILL for this label’s 2010 lineup?  Four pretty stupid twenty-somethings playing teenagers (of course) hit the road for a vacation.  And like all Australian vacations they decide to go out to the most remote parts of Australia’s Outback (I think all Australian travel agents need to be kicked in the balls or in the box).  The “teens” are Marcus (Xavier Samuel, star of the amazing THE LOVED ONES), Craig (Bob Morley), Liz (Georgina Haig), and Nina (Sophie Lowe).  There’s tension among the group, two of them used to date/screw but broke up and the other couple is estranged from each other, which immediately has you thinking, “Why the fuck did these two couples even wanna go on vacation together?”

Our cast of stupid, stupid people.

While traveling on a (of course) extremely remote stretch of road, a road train (the original title of the film) comes barreling behind them and passes their car.  A “road train” is a tractor trailer pulling two freight cars.  Craig, a rather douchy guy, takes it as a personal insult that the road train passed them so he speeds up and cuts in front of the truck.  The truck then smashes into the back of the car sending it tumbling asshole over tea kettle.  They all emerge from the car pretty much unharmed except for the douchy guy Craig.  He has a nice old compound leg fracture that’ll have you grabbing your own leg in pain.  So the estranged couple start walking(???) down the very remote road looking for help when they stumble upon the very truck that caused the accident.  After checking out the truck they realize it has been abandoned so they pick up the injured douchy dude and his girlfriend and steal the truck.

Don't ask; it really doesn't matter what's going on here.

Soon after stealing it, odd things begin to happen to the twenty-somethings … I mean teens.  It seems as though the truck is possessing them or at the very least altering their moods and behaviors.  Marcus is driving, zones out (due to the truck) and they all awaken on an even more remote dead end road that they’re trapped on (it’s a really narrow road and there’s not enough room to back up the road train).  At this point the film becomes one of “those films” that seems to be searching for some kind of explanation to give the viewer some kind of closure to the events going on.  It literally feels as though the writer (Clive Hopkins) came up with the idea of a “haunted truck” terrorizing kids and then director Dean Francis started filming it before reading the entire script.  It seems they’re both making up the story as they go on.

Don' get hung up on this hood ornament ... it has no relevance to anything going on!!

Unfortunately for us the explanation they decide on is lamer than Christopher Reeves in a marathon.  Each teen (I’ll just give-in and call them “teens”) becomes affected by the truck.  Craig’s horrible compound fracture mysteriously heals and Marcus becomes more and more of an asshole to his girlfriend (going so far as to abandon her on the remote stretch of road).  But we keep getting hints that the truck is hauling something mysterious, suspicious, and maybe even a little supernatural.  The cargo bins are pad locked but not surprisingly they open whenever there’s only one character near it.  It’s kinda like the WB frog that only sings and dances when there’s only one person around.

This guy comes & goes faster than your interest in this flick does!!

So for the better part of 90 minutes we have to endure some truly lame cat and mouse games as Craig stalks and kills the others.  Or is it the real owner of the road train?  Or is it something from the truck’s cargo?  Or is it … who cares!!!  Trust me; you won’t care.  With dialogue like, “You didn’t take the truck, the truck took you” you’ll wanna swallow a bullet.  Sure ROAD KILL is full of laugh-inducing lines like this one, but the problem is this isn’t a comedy!!  And just in case you’re crazy like I am and wanna know what’s in the cargo, I’m gonna save you the trouble of watching this one:  [SPOILERS FOLLOW]  The truck is indeed possessing the teens, but the real explanation here is that the truck runs on human blood and the truck’s entire cargo is a blood processing plant that grinds up people and funnels the blood into the gas tank. [END SPOILER]  Yeah; I wish I was joking.  This “reveal” does absolutely nothing to explain what has been occurring in the film prior to it (like why does the camera keep focusing on the truck’s hood ornament of the three-headed wolf?).  The final act of the film completely falls apart making the first few acts a huge waste of time.

A good old compound fracture is the closest we get to gore here!!

There’s a new “sheriff” in town folks and it’s called “Fangoria FrightFest”.  This is the first film of the 2010 lineup that I watched (I have seen all of them) and if this is any indication of future lineups then After Dark is gonna have a run for its money.  Forgettable performances, a ridiculously silly plot, horrible dialogue, and more insulting plot holes than is forgivable for any one film makes this one a film to put on your “avoid at all costs” list.  Now all we need is Rue Morgue magazine to sponsor a yearly shitty horror film festival to complete the hat trick.  Not recommended at all!!

My Summary:

Director:  Dead Francis

Plot:  1 out of 5 stars

Gore:  4 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer