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Kidnapping Turns to Carnage in THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (Review)

Kidnapping Turns to Carnage in THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (Review)

It’s always fun when a genre flick switches gears in Act II. Like how Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn is a hard-boiled kidnapping thriller until they stop at a strip club packed to the rafters with hungry vampires. From that point on it’s pretty much just a juicy, over-the-top, comic book-style horror movie. The same holds true — albeit on a slightly smaller scale — in the crafty, straightforward, and handsomely atmospheric South African import known as The House on Willow Street. Let’s just say that this horror movie does for kidnapping what Don’t Breathe does for breaking and entering.

A gang of amateur criminals (led by the always cool Sharni Vinson of You’re Next) think they have planned the perfect kidnapping, down to every last detail. Of course they didn’t expect that their hostage would actually be a ravenous demon masquerading as a young woman, and that’s why things go from bad to worse to “good lord what’s with all the mouth tentacles?!?” once a few of the kidnappers return to the scene of the crime only to realize that the whole girl’s family has been massacred. But by whom? (Guess!)

From there it’s a slightly predictable but consistently entertaining collection of kills, chases, scrapes, escapes possessions, and skewerings as the demon-girl’s orally-tentacled offspring do all they can to turn the tables on their abductors. Suffice to say the demons have the advantage here. It’s all very splattery and gory and Fulci-ish as each of Vinson’s cohorts falls prey to the evil creatures, and to its credit The House on Willow Street is shot well, cut quick, and more than loaded with goopy, gory special effects. Plus most of the characters — aside from our resourceful, resilient anti-heroine — are awful people, so you get to enjoy it when the demons exact their horrific revenge. And given that most occult thrillers are “slow-burn” stories that dole out their terrors sparingly, it’s nice to discover one that simply throws a lot of crazy mayhem at the screen with this much grim enthusiasm.

Director Alistair Orr (indie horror fans may recall his Indigenous from a few years back) is more than content to combine a kidnapping thriller and a gory horror story into one comfortably enjoyable concoction, but The House on Willow Street also boasts some impressive technical merits. The look, the tone, the sound design, and the musical score do a fine job of setting a creepy stage once the gloves come off, horror-wise, and at that point the pace picks up considerably, resulting in a third act full of demonic malfeasance that genre fans are sure to appreciate. Aside from Ms. Vinson (who is likable even when playing a villain) the angry crook characters are all pretty interchangeable, and it’s not a film that’s likely to win many awards for originality, but (much like From Dusk Till Dawn) The House on Willow Street works unexpectedly well as a pulpy, unpretentious, horror comic book of a movie.

3.5 burritos (hold the tentacles) out of 5

3.5-burritos1

Image: IFC Midnight

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