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Dark House

Other // Unrated // September 28, 2010
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted August 7, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
Many will argue that all a horror movie needs to succeed is a strong premise. Others point to the equally important necessity of a polished execution. Some will champion recognizable characters or personalities you can root for, and a few won't be happy until blood is spilled in splashy, excessive buckets. So what do you do when you have a scary movie that provides a very intriguing idea, a decent - if slightly CGI-heavy level of directorial accomplishment, a group of players you can pull for, and a gallon or ten of said mandatory grue...and still seems to come up short. Well, if you're Dark House, you dive right into diva/divo territory, loading your cast with enough over the top thespian hysterics to make the audience forget that you're failing at your fear factors. With genre limelight Jeffrey Combs and a cast capable of matching him, hissy fit for histrionics, there's so much art design dining going on that you just don't notice how cheap this journey through this particular Dark House really is.

The Plot:
As a little girl, Claire Thompson witnessed the gruesome murders of seven foster children by their deranged guardian, Miss Darrode. Now, 13 years later, she's a college kid trying to make it as an actress - and failing miserably. Hopped up on a series of meds which "cut her off from her emotions", her shrink suggests she revisit the scene of the trauma to "take back" her memories...and her life. As luck would have it, haunted house entrepreneur Mr. Walston shows up to her class with an unbeatable offer. He will pay Claire and her pals $300 each to work his latest attraction for one day. The catch - it's been located in the old Darrode abode. Initially, our heroine balks. But seeing a chance to heal her problematic psyche, she agrees. Little does she realize that the spirit of Miss Darrode still roams the retrofitted home, and is looking to exact some beyond the grave revenge on the child who destroyed her Bible-based Apocalyptic plans - Claire!

The DVD:
If scenery chewing was the essence of horror, Dark House would be more frightening than The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity put together. Between the mise-en-scene mastication of Combs, co-star Diane Salinger (as Miss Darrode) and lead Meghan Ory, it's a veritable hyper-acting how-to. Of the three, only the artist forever known as Herbert West and our red headed hag deserve praise. Claire, on the other hand, is so obvious in her inner demons that she might as well be a salesman for Satan himself. The rest of the cast rambles about, happy to partake of their archetypical personalities (nerd, lothario, bimbo, Goth gal, etc.) and writer/director Darin Scott clearly sees them as nothing more than victim fodder. Before any of them get a backstory or a basic motivation, a holographic image "comes to life" and sprays their guts all over the lens. While the tech savvy set-up is a little lame, especially with all the pseudo CG used to realize the computing power, there is no denying the satisfaction of seeing interchangeable cast members massacred for the sake of a scary movie.

But even better, Dark House has a real sense of itself. It's both deadly serious and tongue in cheek, using the arch acting and the ample arterial spray to balance out the needs of the genre. It understands the basics of dread while never quite playing to their suspense strengths. Miss Darrode makes for a decent monster and Scott exploits her well. About the only thing the movie muffs is its "surprise" ending. For a while, we wonder why Claire's recall is so sketchy, so based around a quick initial look-see but then steeped in the kind of detail that only an active participant would remember. So as not to spoil the twist, let's just say that Dark House descends into a moment or two of "WTF - did I just miss something?" before delivering its final denouement. And then the actual finale tries to "fix" everything with some slick supernatural frame-up. Oddly enough, the film has built up such gory goodwill that we don't mind the major cinematic cheat. In some ways, it feels like part of Dark House's raison d'etra.

In fact, the best part of this otherwise hit or miss movie is how well it recreates the direct to video vibe of the '80s. We get the in-jokes, the specific spoofs and the attempts at something new and novel. We scoff at the explanation behind the slayings and then turn around and enjoy every splattery slasher like send-off. It's that sense of familiarity that helps us over the obvious narrative hurdles, as well as the less than memorable supporting players. As an attempt to take the old haunted edifice story high tech, Dark House is truly decent. If you come in looking for something classic, you'll go away disappointed and a bit disgruntled. On the other hand, if you allow the movie to make its creepshow case and aren't overly critical, you'll enjoy every crappy, campy minute of it.

The Video:
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Lightning Media does send a final product version of Dark House to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Audio:
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Lightning Media does send a final product version of Dark House to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Extras:
This Screener copy of Dark House only contained the movie. No bonus features. If Lightning Media does send a final product version of Dark House to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

Final Thoughts:
It's hard to hate Dark House. You can see its good intentions and well-meaning macabre conceits on its billowy, blood stained sleeves. It's not always successful, but when it works - and when it unleashes the grand greatness of Jeffrey Combs and Diane Salinger on the unwitting home video populace - it passes fright flick muster with cock rocking results. Not quite a Highly rated experience, it's still Recommended ride through a strong premise with some equally effective execution. It's rare when a low budget independent can play alongside the big boys, but Dark House does try. While not always completely up to the challenge, it definitely deserves a look.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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