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STUDIO New Video Group
RUNNING TIME 102 Minutes
• Behind-the-scenes Footage
Tobin Bell’s flowing locks are more horrifying than anything else you’ll see here.
Luke Kleintank, Anthony Rey Perez, Alex McKenna, Zack Ward, Tobin Bell
When Nick Di Santo learns that his father is not only alive but can possibly reveal the origin of Nick’s dark gift, Nick sets out on a trip that takes him to an abandoned mansion he thought only existed in his childhood imagination.
Ambition can make or break a film. In the case of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers films, it was their ambitions that set them apart from the pack, particularly when it came to the second film. Jeepers Creepers 2 featured several impressive action beats and some insanely fun creature effects. Both films were also surprisingly funny, and had impressive production value. I wouldn’t say the ambitions of these films were lofty, but they have a surprising amount of energy and scope for such modestly budgeted pictures that seemed tailor-made for the Fangoria crowd.
I was eager to see if Salva had instilled some of that ambition into his latest horror film, Dark House. Sadly, I can’t say that he has. At times, the film feels like it reaches too far, going for things it couldn’t properly achieve on its meager budget. Yet it also feels like an underachiever. It’s also just plain weird, especially when it comes to Tobin Bell’s small role. His character’s hairstyle looks like he tore the hair extensions off a second-rate Weird Al/Kenny G impersonator and fashioned them into a hillbilly mullet. It’s so strange that the reveal of the character produced a chuckle from me, when it was obviously aiming for a chill. Bell’s frizzy extensions sway in the breeze, hanging off of his head like the ears of a cocker spaniel.
Just as strange as the hair choices are the film’s scares, most of which are provided by long-haired, axe-wielding men in trench coats. They seem to appear at random, their numbers increasing as the plot necessitates. They chase our characters in a completely nonsensical and occasionally hilarious way: with a slumped-over, ape-like gallop, dragging their axes behind them. It’s extraordinarily silly, especially when more of them start to show up. The galloping axe-men are some of the un-scariest villains (that weren’t played for laughs) I’ve seen in recent years, and Tobin Bell isn’t much scarier as their mulleted counterpart.
Aside from some very dodgy dialogue (“So you have a tiny boner for old houses with little round windows. What the hell difference does that make?”), the rest of my dissatisfaction comes from the film’s “Diet Dean Koontz meets Silent Hill” narrative. Our protagonist has psychic powers. He travels to a town that everybody tells him doesn’t exist. Once he and his buddies get there, they seem to be on a different plane of reality: unable to leave, and unable to communicate with the outside world. Their cell phones can’t make calls, but in a moment of hilarious convenience, they are able to browse the web and look up some exposition. Nick’s ability to see others’ deaths spoils some kills way ahead of time, which doesn’t do the audience any favors.
The film really shows its misplaced ambition in its final minutes, when the galloping axe-men have a brawl with another axe-wielding group, which appears almost completely un-choreographed and therefore less dangerous than two kids having a lightsaber fight with foam pool noodles. I know that Victor Salva is capable of shooting action, but I’m thinking an intensely choreographed axe-brawl with lots of good coverage just wasn’t in the budget. It’s easily the film’s ugliest blemish, and could have been avoided if someone had just said “no” to this scene in preproduction.
Aside from that astonishingly bad sequence, it would appear that Salva and his cinematographer Don Fauntleroy still know how to shoot a movie. The shot composition is consistently quite good in a utilitarian way, using the 2.35:1 aspect ratio well. The shot compositions help give the film a layer of gloss that, if absent, might have sunk the film to the bottom of the bargain bin. There’s also a really great scene transition in the film. So good, in fact, that I burst into laughter and immediately watched it again. A character gets an axe to the head (with a good solid THUNK!) and we cut to Nick’s eight-months-pregnant girlfriend, who says, “Ooh! There was a kick.” It’s a refreshingly well crafted moment that also happens to produce the film’s only great gore gag.
Yet through all of its potentially charming weirdness (a formless evil that speaks through air vents and a platoon of scraggly, slumping lumberjacks) the film ends up in a very well-worn and comfortable (not to mention boring) horror narrative. So while Dark House may not be at the bottom of the bargain bin amongst the albino sea creatures, it’s still a bargain bin title. I suppose I could admire its ambition, trying to show us something a bit bigger than your typical low-budget supernatural horror, but I can’t admire what simply doesn’t work.
The disc’s video quality isn’t a letdown, though. Dark House looks fairly good, with only some minor artifacts and banding. The transfer could be a bit sharper, but I’d rather it look like a little soft than artificially sharpened. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track ain’t bad either. The disc’s lone twenty minute featurette contains some decent interview footage, but doesn’t touch on Brian Penikas’ make-up effects. Writer/Producer/Actor Charles Agron proudly describes the film as “written like a Swiss watch” and “perfect”, so I’m not sure I’d want to hear a commentary for this film, but including one on the disc would have been better than none at all.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars