The Distracted Critic visits HOUSE (2008)

HOUSE (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

H - dvd

I watched HOUSE by accident. It was a drab and boring night and I was flipping through Netflix Instant Watch when I saw the listing and thought, “William Katt? George Wendt? Richard Moll? That was a fun movie!” I clicked the title and saw that this one starred Reynaldo Rosales “Never heard of him.” Heidi Dippold “Who?” and J.P. Davis “I thought he died… no, that was J.T. Walsh.” Just as I was going to flip away from it, I noticed that the director’s last name was Henson “Brian Henson? I loved his NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES episode ‘Battleground’!” I clicked PLAY.

The opening was pretty cool, interspersing a tale of a woman being stalked by her husband with the names of the cast. Names like Michael Madsen, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook and Lew Temple. With a cast like that, I decided to stick around.

We meet a couple driving through Alabama, obviously lost. Jack Singleton (Rosales), a stereotypical man, acts like if he can just drive fast enough he’ll magically arrive at someplace he knows. Stephanie Singleton (Dippold), his wife, hounds him to slow down. He screams “BE QUIET!” at her a few times, but doesn’t slow down. A cop passes them, giving a few blips of his siren as a warning. As they argue about the meaning of the cop’s actions, they come across a wreck and almost run the cop over. Jack apologizes, his wife flirts like crazy, and instead of ticketing them for speeding or reckless endangerment or failure to yield, he tells them a shortcut back to the highway.

The cop is played by Michael Madsen who has 217 actor credits on IMDb. He’s been a ton of different characters throughout his career, but I will only ever think of him as the ear-collecting Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarrantino’s 1992 RESEVOIR DOGS.

Michael Madsen plays the cop, the chicken's role is uncredited.

Michael Madsen plays the cop. The chicken’s role is uncredited.

Jack and Stephanie head off on the shortcut but don’t get far before they hit a chunk of metal in the road that punctures two of their tires. They pass another car with tire trouble as they walk for help. No surprise, they come upon the same old house where the man hunted his wife in the opening montage of the movie.

They find a guestbook in the front hall, but Jack and Stephanie do not sign it. All they want is the use of a phone so they can be on their way… and that’s what they’d ask for if anyone was around. They call out a few times and then another couple comes down the stairs, Randy (Davis) and Leslie (Julie Ann Emery). Randy incorrectly assumes Jack owns the place. Jack correctly assumes Randy owns the disabled Beemer back on the road. They discuss what to do next, and are interrupted by a very creepy looking guy who looks at Leslie and says: “You’re purdy.”

Lightning flashes outside, and suddenly there’s a woman standing on the other side of the room. She introduces herself as Betty. She says the creepy guy is her son Pete, and her husband Stewart is fixing the fuse. She says the rates are twenty dollars a night, per person. Randy asks if that includes food and Betty says there’s enough to go around. “But you gotta clean up,” she says. “Only pigs… eat in their own muck.”

Betty is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Pete by Lew Temple and Stewart by Bill Moseley. They’ve each got dozens of acting credits, but they’ll be best remembered by readers of this site by another film they did together, Rob Zombie’s 2005 masterpiece, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson's 2008 movie HOUSE.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson’s 2008 movie HOUSE.

As the couples dine, a commotion rises outside and the “family” panics and starts locking all the doors and windows. Betty starts yelling at the two young couples, scolding them for bringing the “Tinman” to their home. A tin can is dropped down the chimney, and upon it has been written the House Rules. “Rule number one: God came into my house, and I killed Him. Rule number two: I will kill anyone who comes into my house like I killed God. Rule number three: Give me one dead body before sunrise, and I’ll let rule number two slide.” With this reveal, their night of survival begins.

There was a lot that struck me as “off” about this film. There was no profanity that I could recognize. Though Leslie wore a dress that revealed a good amount of cleavage, at no point was there nudity. On top of that, creative cutaways kept the violence—the horror-movie money shots—off screen. Those were just the stylistic oddities. The philosophical oddities were subtle but even more disturbing.

Leslie’s childhood was terrorized by sexual abuse perpetrated by her uncle. The onus for this is placed squarely on her for being “an evil temptress,” not just by the creepy backwater family, but by everyone present. Jack and Stephanie’s marriage was shattered by the accidental death of their daughter. Again, it’s accepted by everyone present that the onus for that is entirely on Stephanie. Jack is the poor soul doomed to shoulder her failure for the rest of his life—even though we’ve seen in flashback that Jack had been present when the accident happened, but was too busy working to even speak civilly to his daughter. I began to feel irritated by this movie.

Horror films have long gotten a bad rap for being misogynistic. For every film that depicts a strong female character that tries to survive instead of relying on a man to save her, you can find dozens that treat women like baggage the male characters have to coddle, protect and lug around. While the women in HOUSE seemed stronger than your average horror movie fodder, the movie reared its misogynous head in a creepily different way. It played as if everything bad that ever happened was a woman’s fault. It’s even implied early on that Jack would never have had any trouble driving if Stephanie hadn’t been nagging him.

As the plot entered its endgame, the characters began to speak Christian-ese. That’s when I realized what was going on. Christian-ese is a language Christians use when they don’t want non-Christians to realize they’re being preached to. It wasn’t until the end credits that we were told the movie was “Based on a novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.” For those unfamiliar with the culture, Peretti and Dekker are Christian novelists who sell insane amounts of books. A novel penned by them side-by-side is the Christian equivalent of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s THE TALISMAN. Had I seen that credit at the start of the film (and there was no hint of it, I went back and checked), the “Original Sin” attitude of the movie wouldn’t have taken me by surprise.

Robby Henson has directed Christian horror before, 2006’s THR3E. To many, the phrase “Christian horror” sounds as satisfying as “diet cotton candy” or “virtual hug.” It’s an interesting phrase, but it’s bound to lose something in the practical world. The vast majority of fans do not appreciate horror movies with explicit “Good wins over all” endings. POLTERGEIST III (1988) and THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE (2007) leap to mind as examples. Both of these films came across as sermons. HOUSE isn’t quite as heavy-handed as that, though the movie hopes to convince you you’re a sinner so that you’ll dedicate your life Christian ideologies. I’m not going to judge whether or not the film succeeds at that. I only have to judge its merits as a horror film.

If you want the experience of watching “Christian horror,” then I’d have to say that this is a movie to check out. Not only does it boast a fairly lucid plot (Christian sensibilities and philosophies aside), you get to enjoy Michael Madsen and horror movie cult favorites Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook chewing the scenery as only they can. If, however, you’re after a really good horror movie, then I’d have to recommend you steer clear. Hunt down something better… like, say, Brian Henson’s awesome short movie “Battleground.”

I’m gonna give HOUSE two stars, which surprises me, but it’s possible I was enthralled with seeing Mr. Blonde and Otis Firefly onscreen together. I kept hoping they’d break into an Epic Rap Battle. As for timeouts, there were three– a “trinity” of them, as it were.

Reynaldo Rosales is Jack and Heidi Dippold is Stephanie, who are terrorized in the HOUSE.

Reynaldo Rosales as Jack and Heidi Dippold as Stephanie are terrorized in the HOUSE.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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