DVD REVIEW: DARK HOUSE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: VICTOR SALVA / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES AGRON, VICTOR SALVA / STARRING: LUKE KLEINTANK, ALEX MCKENNA, ANTHONY REY PEREZ, ZACK WARD, TOBIN BELL, LESLEY-ANNE DOWN / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 5TH
Nick Di Santo (Kleintank) has a unique talent. When he touches people, he can see how they’ll die. After his mother - a patient in a mental hospital - is incinerated by the voice that speaks to her through the wall, Nick discovers he has inherited a house that he never knew existed but which, weirdly, he has been drawing pictures of ever since childhood. He decides to check it out, accompanied by his heavily pregnant girlfriend Eve (McKenna) and his best friend Ryan (Rey Perez), only to be told it was swept down the valley by a flood that some locals believe was God’s attempt to destroy the house forever. As far as anyone knows, God succeeded. But when Nick and his companions locate the house they find it occupied by the menacing Seth (Bell) who not only warns them to stay away from the place but then, just to make the warning explicitly clear, sends several axe-wielding maniacs after them.
The only problem is that something in the house won’t let them go and when their escape inexplicably leads them back to the titular property, and Eve looks as if she might have the baby at any moment, Nick and friends have no choice but to venture inside and confront the gruesome secret that lurks behind the crumbling walls.
Victor Salva has had a chequered career, for reasons we won’t go into here, with his 2001 film Jeepers Creepers being his greatest success. There are moments during the first half of Dark House when it seems Salva might finally have trumped Jeepers Creepers, neatly building tension and unravelling a story that has some genuinely creepy promise, but all that good work is quickly let down by a script that badly goes south during the second half of the film.
It’s a shame because that first half introduces a few interesting ideas and builds some effective atmosphere. Nick’s ‘psychic’ abilities and his relationships with Eve and Ryan are sketched-in nicely and there’s a welcome cameo by Lesley-Anne Down as Nick’s mother, who reneges on the deal she has with the voice in the wall and pays dearly for it. There is some excellent cinematography, the backwoods location is suitably disorienting even in bright sunlight, and the house itself is definitely not a place anyone would choose to spend the night. Tobin Bell once again plays sinister excellently, but looks a little too Lance Henriksen for our liking, and the gang of axe-men he controls transform strikingly from crouched, heavy-metal Planet of the Apes rejects who race through the trees hurling their weapons like martial arts throwing-stars to unnervingly still Terracotta Warrior-types, standing like statues, waiting for the silent command to strike. There’s also a terrific moment when Nick and co. enter what appears to be an empty ghost town, looking through the café windows to see chairs stacked on tables while – in a reverse shot from inside the café – the place is packed with diners, eating, chatting, ignoring the strangers staring in from the outside.
But the good parts are outweighed by some Scooby Doo-worthy ‘let’s go back in the house/hump in the back of the van where we’re sure to be killed’ storytelling and a third act twist that might have been cool in the hands of another screenwriter but is absolutely ridiculous with Salva and co-writer Charles Agron in charge. And let’s not get started on the lazy ending.
A wasted opportunity after its initial first half promise.