House

Movie Information

The Story: Travelers in rural Alabama are trapped in a house by a masked madman who is not looking out for their best interests. The Lowdown: A confused and totally unscary entry in the hillbilly-horror sweepstakes, but with a supposed message of spiritual uplift.
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Robby Henson (Thr3e)
Starring: Reynaldo Rosales, Heidi Dippold, Michael Madsen, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook
Rated: R

The upside of this latest film from Robby Henson, House (no relation to Steve Miner’s campy 1986 horror/comedy of the same name), is that it isn’t as meanderingly silly as Henson’s previous attempt at creating a faith-based horror picture from a novel by Christian writer Ted Dekker, Thr3e (2006). Perhaps this has something to do with Dekker’s coauthor on the source book, Frank Peretti, a man referred to as “the master of Christian suspense” by CBN’s The 700 Club, whatever that actually means. The downside is that House offers less in the way of unintentional humor, thereby limiting the entertainment value considerably.

When I first heard that there was to be a faith-based R-rated horror movie I was intrigued. I’ve argued before that the two concepts—far from being mutually exclusive—are a pretty good match. A great deal of supernatural horror is in fact grounded in religious belief. What else would you call it when someone whips out a crucifix to drive off a vampire? And there’s really no term that describes William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III (1990) so well as “faith-based horror.” Indeed, it’s far more applicable to Blatty’s film than to this witless mess, which is no more faith-based than a Saw movie with the word “sin” shoehorned into the proceedings.

House is at bottom nothing but a very basic—albeit incredibly muddled—stranded-motorists-trapped-and-tormented-by-a-crazed-killer flick, a concept that dates back at the very least to Roland West’s The Monster (1925). It’s an idea that’s serviceable—running from The Monster to The Old Dark House (1932) to House of 1000 Corpses (2003)—as long as something of interest actually happens once the luckless travelers fall prey to their unfortunate circumstances. One of the problems with House is that nothing even remotely interesting or fresh occurs. It’s tired and lame and impossibly clunky.

The story revolves around an annoying couple, who on their way to badly needed marriage counseling get lost in the backwoods of Alabama (here impersonated by Poland). A creepy policeman (Michael Madsen, proving once again that he’s not too choosy in selecting roles—the man was in BloodRayne, for God’s sake) directs them down a goat path that supposedly leads to the interstate. Ah, but does it? In short order, we find out that, no, it does not, and our antagonistic protagonists find themselves with two flat tires from running over what are described as “farm parts.” Quicker than you can sing a verse of “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” the diligent duo are hoofing it through inclement weather on a journey that takes them up to “the house,” which should have been called “Satan’s Bed and Breakfast.”

Given the movie’s Polish production, it’s perhaps not surprising that nothing about the joint even remotely indicates that it’s in Alabama—rural or otherwise. But then, the movie’s only concession to authenticity in this regard lies in festooning what appears to be a North Carolina license plate with an obviously pasted on “Heart of Dixie” label (mindless of the fact that Alabama plates haven’t said that for a while now, so far as I can tell). This is a very European-looking old, dark bed and breakfast. It boasts plumbing that would shame that found in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from 2003, and one might also question why the house has a cellar that appears to belong beneath a large industrial facility. Then again, one might question a lot of things about this movie, so let’s move on.

There are the usual creepy characters, of which two are played by horror veterans Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook, whose presence is all that gooses the rating on this to a full star. There’s a third peculiar resident played by another Rob Zombie alumnus, Lew Temple, who apparently spent a long time studying John Carradine’s performance in Voodoo Man (1944), since he has Carradine’s moronic, sex-starved “You’re a pretty one” shtick down to a science. There’s also another irritating couple—their car fell prey to “farm parts,” too. (All these accidents, by the way, are part of the movie’s silly ending.) Finally, we have a homicidal maniac called “the tin man.” He writes threatening notes on cans and sports a metal mask for maximum creepiness—and to cut down on the actual number of shooting days for the “pricey” name actor supposedly lurking ‘neath this “horrifying” accoutrement.

A good deal of running around ill-lit sets ensues, as dark secrets are revealed and evidences of utterly inexplicable satanic rituals crop up. For some reason, the film labors under the delusion that it’s in the same league as Nicolas Roeg’s artsy horror classic Don’t Look Now (1973). A large chunk of the plot, including glimpsing a figure in a red coat, is pilfered from Roeg’s movie, but the payoff is missing, as is all the tension and artistry. In its place, we’re given a preposterous dose of redemption that doesn’t make a lick of sense, followed by a twist ending that makes somewhat less sense and a final “surprise” that completely undermines whatever message about the power of good over evil the film was supposed to be making in the first place. To say that mush-minded incompetence runs wild here would be to insult mush-minded incompetence everywhere. And, by the way, there’s no earthly reason—except as a come-on—for this nonsense to be rated R, despite the claims of the MPAA folks. Rated R for some violence and terror.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

5 thoughts on “House

  1. Bert

    What did you think of Exorcist II? Everyone rips on it, but I thought all of the atmospheric Africa stuff was really well done.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve been a defender of Boorman’s Exorcist II since the weekend it opened in 1977. I love the fact that Boorman managed to get WB to let him make a $14.5 million art movie. I even more love the fact that he told them upfront that he hated the original film and that he’d make what amounted to an “anti-Exorcist,” to which the studio unaccountably agreed, giving him total artistic control and a million dollar check. (Combine that with the fact that WB execs read the script and try to make sense out of their apparent shock when they saw the movie.)

    If you approach the film with that in mind — that it’s an “anti-Exorcist and its goals are completely different — it’s a fascinating work that explores a very different theological and philosophical theme. Also, Boorman’s decision to shoot nearly the entire movie on soundstages gave it a unique and often stunning look.

    What’s really kind of surprising, though, is that the film doesn’t detract in any way from the two films that bracket it. Since those films follow up on Kinderman and Fr. Karras, a middle film that continues the story of Regan MacNeil fits in just fine as another part of the story.

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