October 05, 2009 by Greg Lamberson

I recently wrote an article about all of the low budget horror films being produced in Buffalo, and posted an interview with the co-director of one of them. Now I'm going to review one of them - HOUSE OF HORRORS: THE MOVIE, which is having its premiere at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre today, and is also now available as a Limited Edition DVD (1,000 copies). A non-disclaimer is order: I shot my short film GRUESOME at the House of Horrors, a haunt attraction in my home town Cheektowaga (which means "Land of the Crab Apple Tree"), and I've met Tim Bunch, who owns the House and executive produced this movie. I also know Michael O'Hear, who plays a priest in this film; Jennifer DiNorcia, who suffers a horrible death; and Rod Durick, who provides a killer special effect. Otherwise, I know none of the key players - including writer/director/producer Dan Monroe (although I have sent him some interview questions).

A few years ago, Red Scream Films produced FRIGHTWORLD, a micro-budget horror flick set in another one of our local haunts. I know several people who were involved that film, which I've heard nothing but terrible things about; I finally saw some scenes from it several months ago and they lived up to the film's reputation. But the idea of shooting in a haunt is a good one: you've got all those sets, props, costumes, wide open spaces and haunt personnel at your disposal... production value for little or no expense on the part of the filmmakers. While shooting GRUESOME at the HoH, I contemplated pitching a movie to the owners; problem was, FRIGHTWORLD was notorious in the area and proved a hurdle to similar concepts. By the time I considered contacting Bunch avout SLIME CITY MASSACRE, Monroe had already set his film in motion, with the folks I mentioned above involved. This summer, HOUSE OF HORRORS: THE MOVIE was one of several low budget films produced in the area.

HOH:TM starts with three goth girls gathering for a satanic ritual. I've seen scenes like this in low budget horror films before, but immediately saw something different in this one: its look, which made strong use of depth of field and focus pulls (called "racks") and actual coverage (the number of shots used to cover actors in a scene). Then, when all hell broke loose, I was startled by how well the digital effects looked. And then something really surprising happened: one of the girls bolted from the house and into the woods, chased by some unseen force, and I felt... fear. My God, someone had set out to make a horror film that was scary! It doesn't happen often, kids.

Once I recovered from my initial shock, Monroe took me into a suburban house where Father Jacob Holy (Russell Jaffey) - a private investigator/priest - interviewed a woman about "the Apostle Killer" stalking the area. By the time the scene ended, Father Holy had blown away the woman and said killer, an effectively designed, black clad slasher. Next, we jump to the Vatican, where Father Michaels (Michael O'Hear) is dispatched to clean up Holy's mess. All of this is tied in to an ouija board, which has somehow found its way to Buffalo's oldest haunt attraction... the House of Horrors.

After three very intriguing sequences, I had to laugh. Ouija boards are always silly, even in THE EXORCIST. But this worn plot device is just as McGuffin. It's October 2009, and the HoH cast and crew is getting ready for its Halloween holiday season. We get a glimpse of the young people who work there, and the former owner, "Pops," and the asshole new owner (not Bunch, although he does get killed early on). While Father Holy - released from an institution for his deeds - runs around like Dr. Loomis trying to locate the ouija board, a handful of HoH employees (including a brother and sister whose parents were killed by the Apostle Killer years earlier) decide to have an after hours party at their place of employment... never a good idea in a slasher film.

And, despite all of its supernatural hooey and kitchen sink ideas, HOH:TM is at its heart a slasher film - and a damned good one. Monroe delivers the goods at a steady clip and the pacing rarely wavers. The resurrected Apostle Killer is certainly more frightening than that silly "Scream" killer, and the bountiful kills are executed with razor sharp precision. At least one murder - DiNorcia's "Tina" character - truly disturbed me, and took me back to the early 1980s, when I often wondered how far these films could go. This murder was brutal, all right, and downright misoginystic - just like a real slasher film. In an odd way, I was relieved that so many male characters had already been killed by this point, or I might have stopped watching, and I kept in mind that the core audience will probably love this scene.

As the night wares on and the body count rises quickly and with copious gore, more an dmore supernatural elements are introduced; one sequence reveled in some EVIL DEAD-style possession, while one effect - a gore gag - impressed me so much that I had to rewind it and watch it again. I was convinced that this was a digital effect, then stunned to realize that it was a live effect that a friend of mine (Durick) had told me he was doing. A seriously strong kill achieved with real flair, and probably the best horror kill to come out of Buffalo since THE BURNING. Another kill, involving a strussed up lad forced to wear a mask and hold a spike to his head had me laughing with glee. Kudos!

Not only does HOH:TM deliver the goods with zeal, but it does so in a pleasing 90 minutes. This is something that other low budget filmmakers need to realize: if you're working with a low budget, keep it fast and short; never give an audience a chance to be bored when you're working with unknown actors. Around the 80 minute mark, I found myself thinking, "Okay, this is good, this works, I'm impressed... and now I'm ready for it to end." And just like that the pace quickened, twists developed, revelations came out, and a satisfying conclusion unfolded.

I've called HOH:TM a low budget movie several times in this review, but if it's a micro-budget affair I'm doubly impressed. The film is visually striking, with glossy, even stylish cinematography, effective direction and professional editing. It was certainly filmed in some Hi Def or DV format, but not once was this a liability. Let me tell you from experience, it is very hard to light digital media in a way that is frightening and not cheesy, but Monroe and his team have accomplished just that.

The film is not without its faults: the dialogue is often laughable, except when it's supposed to be; by the fourth or fifth time Monroe cut to a shot of the HoH banner inside the haunt, I wished the film would switch to a new location just so I could see a new sign; and while several of the performers on hand prove themselves to be skilled performers (Jaffe, DiNorcia, O'Hear and billed star Michael Sweeney), others range from merely acceptable to embarrassing - you root for them to be killed, and fortunately most of them are. A minor subplot involving ghost hunters with access to satelites to "read" unusual activity was just goofy enough to bring a smile to my lips.

I watched this flick with my wife, who has very little patience for really low budget horror films, and she was impressed. She thought Monroe showed a lot of talent and did an "amazing" job. I finished the film surprised by how well it was made and how much I had enjoyed it, and look forward to see it again. Two severed thumbs up!

If you're fond of slasher films or independently made horror films I encourage you to seek this one out.

Back to Press & Reviews

© Copyright 2009 DWM Production Inc. / All Rights Reserved / No unauthorized duplication or reproduction without permission.