Jack and Stephanie are on their way to Montgomery for a counseling appointment to help them recover from the loss of their little girl. On their way there they are waylaid by a car accident and forced to shelter at The Wayside Inn, a creepy old mansion in the Alabama backwoods. Leslie and Randy are an unmarried couple who are also calling the Wayside home for the night. But by the end of this night there may be no one alive to tell the tale; because the Wayside Inn is no ordinary house. In fact, ‘ordinary’ is a completely insufficient word to describe Robby Henson’s 2008 film “House”. This is because it is an extraordinarily ordinary film in every way, save one.
Once inside the Inn things start to go south fast. The proprietors are a strange couple , Betty and Stewart (Leslie Easterbrook and Bill Moseley), who are obsessed with the intimate details of their guests lives. Despite the off-putting vibes the couples have no choice but to stay and ride out the night. The group dines together but all hell breaks loose when a killer known as The Tin Man arrives on scene and throws a soup can inscribed with a list of demands into the house. Jack, Stephanie, Betty, and Stewart escape into the belly of the old mansion only to find that the house itself is evil and is trying to sink them into a hell of madness and black magic.
Twenty five minutes into “House” I started to get really uncomfortable. I wasn’t really getting it. Obviously the movie had a puzzle in mind for the viewer to ponder and solve, but I could not for the life of me figure it out. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to my understanding was the overall execution. “House” is so derivative that literally everyone who has made a film in Hollywood in the last 20 years could sue the filmmakers for plagiarism… and win. What is worse is that the film mines its style from re-makes of J-horror, "Chainsaw", and “The House on Haunted Hill” instead of copying the original forms.
Somewhere around the half-way point I scribbled into my notes, “If Thomas Kincaid made a horror film this is what it would look like, sound like and feel like.” That was my ‘a-ha’ moment. Almost instantly I remembered reading that Kincaid had given all of his children the middle name “Christian”. My Next thought, “Holy fucking shit, it took me 45 minutes to figure out that I was watching a goddamn Christian horror film.“
Obviously I had not read anything about “House” before watching it. I like Leslie Easterbrook and chose the film solely on the hope that she would be scantily clad at some point during its running time. In hindsight perhaps I got a little bit of retribution for indulging that most glorious of deadly sins, lust.
Over the course of the final 45 minutes of the movie I indulged in a few more deadly sins. Gluttony was first on the list; accomplished by pounding down a whole package of sugar free red vines. Diabetes takes the fun out of that sin, entirely. I moved onto sloth and turned the film off for an hour though I knew I had to finish it for review. Then I turned it back on and fell into Envy of my wife who was watching re-runs of “Family Ties”. I finished off with a heavy dose of Wrath... or should I say I WILL finish off with a heavy dose of Wrath.
For anyone who loves the genre this is a complete failure as a horror film. Forget the excogitations on the place of God in man’s decrepit mansion of sin; this script is one mad scientist away from being as big a mess as “House of 1000 Corpses.” The lighting, camera work and production design are at the unimaginative industry standard level. The dialog is fair to poor, the blood and gore are non-existent, and the performances (outside of Easterbrook) seem phoned in.
We have all watched our share of horror films that seem like they are trying hard to be like something we’ve already seen. When those copycats are aware of their forgery and give us enough on the creepy, scare, humor or gore scale then they can be worth a look. Conversely, Horror fans are pretty tolerant and will take a lot of message (Romero) if the package is giving us an original meat hook or two to hang our hats on. “House” reaches neither of these sweet spots. Instead it only works on one level, that of a hard line morality play; and that seems like the biggest slap in the face I can deliver to a horror film.