Fear House (DVD)

Some incredibly good-looking 20-somethings spend the night in a dark, gloomy house with a mysterious past. Yeah, this’ll go well.

Samantha (Aleece Jones, Sick Girl), a reclusive horror author, moves into an antique castle-like house out in the middle of nowhere to work on her next frightening masterpiece. Nine months later, no one has heard from her, so her brother, his friends, and coincidentally her ex-husband all stop by for a visit. Not only do they find Samantha apparently out of her mind, but an unseen force has everyone trapped inside the house. One by one, everyone’s greatest fears come to life over the course of the evening, all while Samantha sits back and watches eerily. Has an ancient supernatural curse come into play, or is there an even greater evil lurking in these walls?

Fear House surprised me. That’s both a good and bad thing in this case. It’s good because there were quite a few clever bits I wasn’t expecting. It’s bad because I had to sit through a lot of tedium in order to get to those clever bits.

When I wanted to escape Fear House:
• The setup didn’t entirely work for me. How does everyone decide on this one night to check in on Samantha? And they arrive at the same time, no less?
• The dialogue early on reveals what each character is afraid of, so this can be paid off in big set pieces later. Unfortunately, these reveals are forced into the dialogue in clunky, awkward ways, and this distracts from the setting up the tone.
• The middle part of the movie features a little bit too much “characters wandering around in various parts of the house” scenes for my taste. I know stuff like this is the bread and butter of a haunted house flick, but I would have preferred it if these scenes had better moved the plot forward.

When Fear House rocked the house:
• There’s an intriguing twist in the final third of movie that really got me involved in the film, much more than I had before. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it suddenly made me view the movie as more than just another ghost movie.
• The movie goes into full-on “roller coaster ride” mode during the final third, with the actors bringing their best intensity, a quicker pace, one or two over-the-top kills, and even a little dark humor. Why couldn’t the entire movie have been like this?

Although Fear House only partially worked for me as a horror film, Morris, his actors, and his crew deserve nothing but praise for getting the movie made. I always admire these indie filmmakers who work with almost no money or resources, but who still pull off a complete work by the time it’s all over. The entertainment world needs more folks like this, and fewer “let’s remake some old crap for a quick buck” types.

Even though this is a low-budget movie with a lot of dark scenes, the DVD’s picture quality is good, as is the sound, a vital element in any ghostly tale. The best of the extras is a commentary with writer/director Michael R. Morris (Last Seen at Angkor) and two of the actors, with a lot of fun anecdotes about the zero-budget “guerrilla filmmaking” production. The rehearsal footage is interesting, if for no other reason than to see the actors in their “street clothes” (they’re still all unbelievably good-looking, though). Rounding out the package are the usual goofy outtakes and the theatrical trailer. The animated menus reveal some huge spoilers, so tread carefully before watching the movie.

If haunted house movies are totally your thing, then you’ll definitely want to give Fear House a try. For anyone else, it’ll probably make for an amusing, but forgettable, rental.

The Verdict

We’ve got a hung jury. As in, the jurors were so overwhelmed by their own fears that they all just hung themselves. So Fear House is free to go, I guess.

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