This is a first for me: Victor Salva’s Dark House is the first movie I have encountered that is being released on home video before it’s being released in theaters. Technically, you could buy this film on Tuesday, but it’s only on Friday that it will be released (on a very limited basis) in theaters. I can lament how eschewing movie theaters makes me sad, and how the increase of home-based movie consumption offends my classicist, theater-loving sensibilities, but that is an essay for another time. I will merely quote Roger Ebert on this point: Any movie worth seeing at home is worth seeing in a theater.
There has been a recent habit in certain horror movies (I’m looking at you, Dead Silence, Silent Hill, Insidious, etc., etc.) to beef up previously simple horror movie premises with gobs of extraneous premises added in. One can no longer have a mere haunted house. It now also has to be home to a spider demon. And also mirrors can teleport you inside. But there’s also time travel and psychics and possessions and everything else you can think of. Call it the kitchen sink approach to horror filmmaking. Some may find this all-inclusive approach to be appealing, but I find that it merely clutters up a film that might find more power in being simple.
Victor Salva’s Dark House is one of those movies. For your money, you will not only have a psychic who can intuit people’s death by touching them, but a haunted house that magically seems to change location, a mysterious teleportation to another dimension, an army of creepy axe-wielding maniacs, a team of baby-eating incubi, a monster that seems to live inside of air ducts and seems to be manipulating all the action, a trip to a mental hospital, and Tobin Bell as a prehistoric hobo for good measure. This is a film that skips all the foreboding, and gives us scene after scene of just boding.
To be fair, Salva is still an expert at depicting a certain kind of scary monster (he did the Jeepers Creepers films), and the Axe Men are actually unique and interesting beasties. They lurch like gorillas, and can throw axes with deadly accuracy, but look like scary, faceless, homeless dudes. When they are on screen, Dark House really comes to life. That they seem to be operating at the behests of Tobin Bell – simultaneously imposing and sympathetic – makes them more interesting.
I wish the same could be said of the leads. Luke Kleintank plays a character named Nick who not only has a mother in a mental hospital, but also X-Men-like powers, with which he can foresee the deaths of people he touches. His best friend is a doofus (Anthony Rey Perez), and his pregnant girlfriend is played by Alex McKenna. When Nick inherits a remote and forgotten home from his mother, he realizes it’s the same home he has been having psychic visions of his whole life. It’s located somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and it is rumored to have washed away in a flood, but it’s really actually moving around through the woods on its own (!).
The notion of a mysteriously moving house seems like a creepy enough idea on its own, and it’s okay to have an army of creepy monsters lurking around it, but why the psychic powers? Why the mentally ill mother who seems to be getting instructions through air vents? Why the lawyer who is also talking to the same voice in an air vent? What is that thing? And why are there extra demons in addition to the uncanny Axe Men? And why shunt our heroes into another dimension wherein they are invisible to everyone else, and everyone else in invisible to them? Too much, sir. Too much.
Dark House is a sight better than something like the overblown Silent Hill (which also had shifting dimensions), but that I have to stoop to making such comparisons shows the film’s weaknesses. I appreciate a good, moody film, and Dark House is trying to be moody and eventful at the same time, eventually just failing at both.