If there’s a manual on how to craft a haunted house or possession movie, House on Elm Lake followed it to the letter. Every cliché is adhered to. One would say without fail, but the sad fact of the matter is that director James Klass has no sense of how to make a film legitimately scary. The film’s shot more like a family drama for the majority of the first half, with the hints at horror – looming spirits and oozing liquids – seeming more like bad make-up jobs and lousy plumbing than manifestations of evil.
The story centres on Eric (Andrew Hollingworth) and Hayley (Becky Fletcher), who move to the country for a new start with their daughter Penny (Faye Goodwin) thanks to some infidelity on the part of Eric, only to be met with troubles from the very beginning that could readily be that of any number of films. The fact that their lovely new home was the site of grisly murders is obviously nothing to worry about though, especially with the strange shed out back and discovery of a book bound in mysterious skin and filled with images of devils and other such strange things.
From the moment the viewer sees Penny talking to an imaginary friend, there’s really no doubt where this will all head. There’s a psychic uttering exclamations regarding Ouija boards such as “These things aren’t meant as games! They can bring forth spirits from another dimension!” Add in evil voices shouting “Get out!” and strange bodily rashes, and the movie is just a low-rent Amityville Horror, but sans the creeping nastiness which made that film so effective.
It’s occasionally offset by lines from Hayley regarding her and Eric’s relationship such as, “I can’t see much of a future when you won’t even bloody talk to me!” and that absolutely doesn’t help, because a haunted house movie either needs to utilize its location to effect fear, or create an atmosphere of creeping dread through characters’ reactions and strange things half-glimpsed.
Klass does none of that. Suburban locations can be creepy, as has been demonstrated before, but actors who never seem to sweat or lack perfectly done hair and makeup confronting blue-tinged spectres from beyond only elicit yawns and glances at one’s watch. In the end, House on Elm Lake is a dull, rote, mess of a film, only occasionally enlivened by some blood and screams.
HOUSE ON ELM LAKE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JAMES KLASS / SCREENPLAY: SHANNON HOLIDAY, JAMES KLASS / STARRING: BECKY FLETCHER, ANDREW HOLLINGWORTH, FAYE GOODWIN, LORENA ANDREA, TARA MACGOWRAN, OLIVER EBSWORTH / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 10TH