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Entries in Dark House [2010] (1)

Sunday
Oct312010

Dark House (2010) Home Video Review

Housing Crisis

The downside of doing research for the Crypticon/Chateau Grrr Celebrity Dinner is that I sometimes have to watch movies like Dark House.  I imagine director Darin Scott might defend his film as being a “throwback” or “purposefully cheesy”, but there’s no evidence to suggest that he’d even know how to pull off such a feat.  What we have here is an unintentionally hilarious House on Haunted Hill rip-off that perplexes more than terrifies.

The movie opens with a flashback in which three pre-teen girls dare each other to go inside the notorious Darrode house.  Ms. Darrode is a religious nut who adopts and indoctrinates foster children, and on this particular day she’s decided that they’re all demons who need to die.  Claire, the one girl to accept the dare, discovers seven bodies strewn about the large house; in the kitchen, she sees Ms. Darrode with one arm shoved down the garbage disposal and the other a bloody stump at her side.  Claire hears a rustling in the pantry and goes to investigate.  When an eye blinks at her through the keyhole, she flips out and tries to run away; of course, she falls, blacks out, and awakens out of a bad dream fourteen years later.

Keep in mind that tripping over kid corpses in a big, scary house and seeing a bloody witch in her death throes isn’t enough to send Claire running.  In fact, she has a bored “I’d rather be texting” look on her face right up until she’s blinked at from behind a locked door.

Things haven’t improved for Claire (Meghan Ory) in the years since the incident.  She’s a twitchy, aspiring actress at a local college who treats her therapy sessions like a dinner-theatre audition for In Treatment.  Her shrink, Dr. Freeman (Tim Shay), convinces her that the only way she’ll find closure is to return to the house, preferably with some supportive friends, and confront whatever it is that still lurks there.

Fortunately, Claire’s acting classmates are helpful, eager archetypes (sorry, “thespians”) who, as fate would have it, all volunteer to host a new haunted attraction that has been set up in the old Darrode house.  The brainchild of flamboyant horror showman Walston Rey (Jeffrey Combs), “Dark House” promises to be a state-of-the-art nightmare, complete with thousands of ultra-realistic holographic ghouls.

Can you guess where this is going?

No?

Okay, the kids show up at “Dark House” for a dress rehearsal ahead of opening night.  They’re joined by a couple of reporters and the rest of Rey’s weird staff.

Got it now?

No?

The ghost of Ms. Darrode materializes and infects the main computer that runs the holograms.

Can we skip to the—

Really?

The holograms come alive and kill people one by one until there’s almost no one left.

Dark House is most effective when Combs is on the—

Claire.  Claire is the only survivor.

Dark House is most effective when Combs is on the screen.  Walston Rey is nothing more than the sinister carnival barker we’ve seen in countless other films (think Vincent Price, or Geoffrey Rush in the remake of House on Haunted Hill—in which Combs also starred).  But what sets this character apart is the delight with which Combs delivers his lines and zips around the screen.  He’s a presence in a cast packed with non-entities, and I would have loved to have seen a fake documentary about his nation-wide horror theme parks.

It’s ironic that a movie about actors would feature so many bad ones.  Aside from Combs and Ory—whose mannerisms and crazy, wild eyes recalls not so much Janet Leigh as Bambi Woods—the performances are uniformly bad.  The other college kids do nothing to elevate their parts above character descriptions, which could have been lifted from a Mad Magazine parody of horror movies (seriously, they should have just been named Jock, Black Guy, Goth Chick, Prankster, and Hottie).  Diane Salinger stands out as Ms. Darrode, but only because when she’s not screaming her lines, she’s popping up out of nowhere in some of the cheapest “Boo!” scares on record (it’s the film version of that old Internet prank where you’re prompted to watch a car drive down a long hill very closely—and you do, until a picture of Linda Blair in Exorcist fright makeup pops onto the screen, accompanied by a banshee shriek).

Dark House isn’t a total wash.   There’s a twist ending that, if you’ve managed to care about anything in the story leading up to it could be considered a doozy.  This is also the kind of horror movie that viewing parties were built around (just don’t tell people you’re going to watch a really good, scary movie, if you want them to show up for such parties in the future).  Not only is the writing terrible, the situations both preposterous and contradictory (why do the killer holograms disappear after the power is shut off, if they’re actually corporeal demons?), but the CG gore has to be seen to be believed.  Study the decapitation scene and ask yourself what kind of magical walls don’t get a single speck of blood on them when they’re less than two feet away from a gore geyser.

Maybe the way to view Dark House is as a very successful meta-horror film.  Sure, you can think of it as “so bad it’s good”, or “so shitty it’s a boring waste of time”; but there’s a Clintonian third way that changes the game completely.  Perhaps Darin Scott—directing his own screenplay—wanted to put out a horror film so derivative, poorly acted, and ineffective in terms of thrills, that the audience would get the same experience as visiting a haunted house.  At every turn, the viewer wants to turn back from the wretched experience, but Scott challenges us to see it through.

So, now that I’ve survived Dark House, who do I see about a refund?