Critics with an uncommon affection for alliteration find movies like “House of the Witch” an embarrassment of riches.
It’s not that this haunted house tale is good, although it is perfectly watchable, in an empty-headed, empty-calories sort of way.
It’s the fun promised by the assorted quasi-creative ways the screenwriter and director find to dispatch the “dead teenagers” in this “dead teenagers movie.”
From boils to beheadings, drowning to — I was going to write “disemboweling,” but realized “No, that’s not accurate. We have seen nary an inch of intestines in this thing.”
And then, wouldn’t you know it? A disembowelment arrives. Several feet of intestine, “Scream” and “Dolemite is My Name” fashion.
It’s a poorly executed thriller, not wrenching any pathos out of any death, not ratcheting up suspense — ever — and failing to even get the “gotchas” to pay off.
Why show one of the half dozen teens who slip into the “haunted house” down the street for some Halloween hijinx and heavy petting reacting to seeing a ghostly woman in a mirror if you’re not going to heighten the moment with shrieking strings in the score? Just a mild mannered shriek from the coed in question.
Here are a few random lines jotted in my notes that tell the story and point to the word-processing (cut, and paste) involved in creating it.
“Get in there! Scare the crap out of some girls! You know how girls get on Halloween!”
“What’s that?” Something’s dripping from the walls.
“So, we’re like STUCK here? Ridiculous.”
“The chair…it MOVED.”
“If this place is abandoned, who’s cooking?”
A clever line can have double meaning in a horror picture. Who is “literally” cooking when you dip a ladle into that stew?
“This house is HAUNTED! And not like some Scooby Freakin’ Doo haunted!”
And then this line, shouted over and over again by the tough kid (Darren Mann) who’d rather become a mechanic than let his stepdad give him career advice.
“What do you WANT from us?”
Nobody stood out to me in this generic, young and pretty cast of “types” — the flirt, the girl who left town and came back, the prankster, the hot to trot couple, the black guy.
The “creative” ways to die are a grab bag from assorted recent horror stories, “The Ring” and “Mama” among them.
The coolest effect is the spectre of the house, a whirl of dust and smoke that manifests a soul-sucking, smoke-down-your-throat wraith.
And as somebody who hates movies with that over-exposed “LA look” from their locations, this Lexington, Kentucky film features some interesting on-site footage, and a pretty proximation of a Kentucky faux-Colonial with Antebellum flourishes 1920s mansion.
But we never feel any urgency in this story, never feel anything for the kids in jeopardy. “House of the Witch” showed up on SyFy before Netflix copped it. People probably forgot about the moment they saw it and are stumbling back onto on the streaming service. It leaves zero impression on the memory.
No wonder nobody reviewed it before now. But they were missing out on all the opportunities for onomatopoeia.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Emily Bader, Darren Mann, Michelle Randolph, Coy Stewart, Jesse Pepe, Arden Belle
Credits: Directed by Alex Merkin, script by Neil Elman. A Marvista release.
Running time: 1:27