Campy Relocation Horrors, Oh My!
By Kristin Battestella
What does one do when one has recently moved? Watch a bunch of laughably bad and campy horror movies about those very same household fears and relocation frights!
Encore – An airplane arrival, fur coats, and a mod pad lead to one rickety elevator and some serious sickle slicing on the staircase in this 1978 thriller. Sure it's Made for TV cheap with poor video quality and dated easy listening recording sessions a la Engelbert Humperdinck, but one phone call fills us in on the divorcing American star moving to England for a new music retreat as intercut suspense and well edited attacks add chopped off hands and up close splatter. A saucy secretary, seemingly friendly agents, and a shady best friend create red herrings alongside an old lady housekeeper saving all our singer's press clippings, the gardener with all the sharp tools, and one giant tape recorder. The undiscovered body is used for scene transitions and a decomposing passage of time, invoking a sense of unease as the victim's voice and sobbing are heard between nightmares and foreboding noises the closed captioning calls “demonic cackling” and ghostly shrieking.” Our manager is angry at the precious years our star's interfering wife took away from the spotlight, and grandfather clocks, interior shadows, and a roaming camera add to the creepy house explorations and spooky atmosphere. Flashback clues, buzzing flies, beachside naughty, and corpses in wheelchairs build motive as swift violence, juicy implications, locked basements, and psychological twists potpourri the shady afoot. Revelations in the final half hour give information but raise more questions as the country manor maze and madness escalates. Maybe some parts are obvious or corny and derivative, but this is a fun little guessing game with choice horror moments and a spooky, entertaining atmosphere.
Stormswept – Grand columns, bayou scenery, candles, thunder, ghostly gusts, and possessions start this almost seventies feeling 1995 romp starring Kathleen Kinmont (Renegade) amid realtors avoiding a house of horrors disclosure and muddy accidents. The chandeliers and staircase grandeur can also seen in North and South, but there are spiders, covered furniture, and flashes of past boobs, blood, and some kind of skeleton dildo thingie. Saucy paintings abound, naughty books contain graphic ejaculation or cunnilingus art, and red four poster beds await. This is obviously low budget Skinemax style – so despite the eerie atmosphere, some scary filming, ominous silhouettes in rain slickers, and frightful reflections in the window, one can't tell if everyone is going to die or have sex, probably both. Four women and two men are Marilyn Chambers numbers! It takes too long for the crew to get stranded at the plantation, but the film within a film chases feature girls in white shirts and no bras while playing into girl on girl fantasies with let's get off your wet clothes talk and accidental towel drops. I laughed out loud at that, I really did! Although the dated midriffs, acid wash jeans, giant old portable phone, and faxed paperwork are bemusing, most of the sexual dialogue is uncomfortable. The men say once a guy has sex with another man he's a homosexual but it's okay for the women to experiment for them as it doesn't make them lesbians. Truth or dare demands the women kiss, word association games start with “pink” – it's disturbing the way actor turned luxury rehab guru Justin Carroll's director character has these women trapped, doing what he wants and not caring if anyone is upset by the sex chats. Whooshing storm effects live up to title and there's a torture history binding everyone to the house, but not much sense is made of this evil spirit driving one and all to sex and kill. The overlong wet dream confessions and lez be friends scenes embrace the step above soft core rather than exceed that lower rung with the horror. I almost wish this could be redone to be more quality. Hidden people in the basement, secret diaries, murders – but our actress has never had an orgasm and it's more important for the manipulative director to hypnotize her into touching herself in front of everyone like Showgirls thrashing in the pool. She recalls painful abuse and incest memories, but he tells her she need not be guilty over masturbating with her brother and can go ahead and have her ultimate sexual fantasy about Alex Trebek. O_o o_O I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie! While terribly laughable and base level entertaining, I just... insert Nathan Fillion confused gif here. Is there even a saucy ghost or is this what happens when you lock messy horny people in the house on a stormy night?
I Didn't Think it was *that* Bad
Cold Creek Manor – New York skylines, business flights, morning rushes, and scary accidents lead to a perilous country renovation for Dennis Quaid (Innerspace), Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct), Kristen Stewart (Twilight), Stephen Dorff (Blade), Juliette Lewis (Strange Days), and Christopher Plummer (Somewhere in Time) in this 2003 thriller from director Mike Figgis (Stormy Monday). The prologue, drive to the scares, and less than friendly redneck rest stops are just a few of the usual horror staples for our pretty rich white city folk. However, there is a high end style with a great brick manor, overgrown charm, and unusual slaughter tools amid the spiderwebs, children's clothes left behind, vintage family portraits, and saucy Polaroids. Older cell phones and flip cameras feel more rural than dated, and overhead camera angles, up close shots, in and out of focus usage, slow zooms, and pans in the stairwell add chills. Intercut conversations also build community tension with chats in a booth versus whispers at the bar revealing the small town connections as uncouth relatives insist there are no hard feelings over the foreclosure sale. The trailer park naughty, shirtless handyman steamy, and mano y mano contests, however, are weak try hards alongside several unnecessary characters compromising what should be taut isolation. Snakes – and I do mean snakes for those terrified of them – nursing home nasty old men, skull bashing and devil's throat dialogue, and tavern violence accent the backwoods car chases, animals in peril, and buried evidence as storms approach. Rather than in your face hectic loudness, the most frightening scenes here are the quiet chills, but of course nobody pays attention to the son who's holding all the information needed and being upfront about the real estate deal would have saved everyone a lot of trouble. The evasive camera and poor editing are used to distract from confusing logistics, and drinking or affairs contrivances are planted to deflect from the wealthy people claiming they have no resources to leave before the weak rooftop standoff. This tries to be sophisticated and had the pieces to be better but fails in putting together a steamy, fatal, cerebral thriller. Ironically this derivative is better than the recent trite scares shilled out, and if you go in expecting the standard house horrors, this can still be bemusing.
But a Skip that Should have been Better
Havenhurst – Julie Benz (Buffy) and Danielle Harris (Halloween) battle the titular apartment building cliches in this 2016 eighty odd minutes with thunderstorms, bloody bathrooms, false jump scares, drags across the room, slow motion tosses in the air, and whooshes on the ceiling. Silly sex scenes, security cameras watching, shower scene scares, clueless men, and drunken dream flashbacks are also unnecessary – rehab meetings and a picture in the locket are child lost enough. These female roles are typical ladies in towels, and the editing is designed for the audience rather than building internal atmosphere or characters. Nothing is needed before our new tenant meets Fionnula Flanagan (Brotherhood) as the classy but suspicious building owner, the action should never leave the complex once we're there, and 666 Park Avenue is not a show this should copy. The locale has style, a fine patina, handsome woodwork, retro cameras, and undeveloped film. Photos within photos, scribbled maps hidden in picture frames, and ominous envelopes slipped under the door suggest more amid hints of red – a seal on the contract, ink for a signature, the eviction notice. Unfortunately, rattling walls, unseen frights, and screams in the next room are never as dark or scary as they should be because the secrets are given to the viewer early – and it's frustrating when the characters can't figure it out despite laughable strongmen behind trap doors, false walls, and weak horror set pieces. If the audience never sees anything or doesn't leave the protagonist's point of view, we can wonder if this is real, surreal, or all in her mind. Instead, the basement, tunnels, and guts feel hollow because there's no mystery when viewers see the secrets before the character. We know who's involved, and conveniently placed flashlights easily allowed one to find the dusty file room for a research montage that's just cool clips onscreen for the audience to read – not the character actually looking at the lame history herself. The nonsensical building logistics, physical impossibilities, and supernatural red herrings underestimate the viewer, removing any suspension of disbelief with too many preposterous happenings and no in-world anchor for the anemic house of horrors.