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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dark House

Once in a lifetime, you view a piece of art so magnificent, it changes you. It puts life in perspective, and you realize that maybe--just maybe--there is beauty in everything we experience, and wonders to behold around every new corner. It makes your entire existence better for the experience.

Dark House is not any of that. Get ready for SPOILERS...

The movie starts off with many, many images of baby dolls and stuffed animals, all piled up together. It's like an orgy scene out of Toy Story. Then blood begins to spray the dolls, followed by a scream. More blood. And some praying.

Then the story begins "14 years ago", before the Texas Doll Saw Massacre, I guess. a trio of little girls ride their bikes to a creepy old house. One girl mentions that it's a foster home, and all 3 suddenly hear a scary cry coming from inside. One girl spontaneously decides to show off, and enters the house, even as her friends beg her to turn back.

Almost immediately, the girl finds the bloody body of a battered boy. Boo-yah! She finds more corpses further in, and all look like recent kills. Moaning sounds lead her into the kitchen, where she finds another body, and a woman drenched in blood, mangling her hand in a garbage disposal. Sure am glad that I had a big dinner tonight!

The little girl hears something in a nearby pantry, and looks through the keyhole. Another eye stares back out at her, and the girl stumbles back, and hits her head on the kitchen floor. She blacks out.

Then we see a young woman, holding the same pose that the girl was in, but resting on a bed. She wakes up from a nightmare, and scurries to the bathroom, to look for some pills in her medicine cabinet. Later, at a meeting with her shrink, he accuses her of not taking her medications nearly enough for them to be effective. Oh, and her name is Claire.

Claire explains to her doctor that the pills dull her emotions, and that's an obstacle to her becoming an actress. When he suggests that her nightmares are tied into repressed memories of her being in the big, scary murder house, Claire reveals that she's tried to return to the property, but is too frightened to even open the front gate. Oh, and the house has a name as well: Chuck. Nah, just messin' wi''s known as the Darrode House.

At Claire's acting class, her instructor has 2 students, Bruce and Eldon, improvise a conversation, mostly where they just bust each others' balls. Then a guy named Rudy replaces Bruce, and makes a lot of jokes about how Eldon is whiter than he is. Then Eldon is replaced by a bitchy blond named Ariel, who reveals to the class that Rudy has a crush on Claire.

Claire then replaces Rudy, and she and Ariel nearly have a brawl onstage. Claire is replaced by her friend Lily, who quickly comes to Claire's defense, then announces that the entire exercise is useless bullshit. Amen to THAT! Can we get to something resembling a plot now?

Right on cue, an older gentleman enters the theater, and interrupts the class. Yay! He's played by Jeffrey Combs, the Re-Animator himself, in the flesh! I'm elated until he opens his mouth, and announces with a horrible theatrical voice that his name is "Walston Ray"...Really??? All you did was reverse late actor Ray Walston's name! If you're Walston Ray, then I'm Presley Elvis.

Anyway, back to a movie that lost all of my goodwill in the last 10 seconds. Wally reveals that he specializes in running profitable haunted house attractions, and that he plans to open a new on in the local community. Gosh, I wonder if the Darrode House is the place he's going to use? That's a real brain-stumper.

Of course it's the house he's talking about, and he offers each student $300 for 1 day of work, to "scare up" publicity with 2 reporters who are coming to the attraction for a preview performance. If it generates enough publicity, he'll even pay them to do the entire season. They all turn up their noses at the thought of doing a cheesy funhouse-type job, until Claire convinces them that the prospect of working in front of a live audience every night would be valuable acting experience. Because they're all mindless sheep, the suddenly agree to do it.

That evening, Claire does an internet search for the phrase "dark house", which Wally kept using. She gets varied results, and starts to read up on the tourist attractions. She also watches an old news clip about the massacre, and the on-air reporter claims that there were 7 children killed that day. Seemed like more, but whatever. She scrolls through a series of nasty crime-scene pictures, then is grabbed through the screen by the ghost of garbage-disposal lady. Wait, what was she grabbed with, did the mangled hands grow back?

The group of students all arrive at Darrode House, and just gawk at it at first. Then they go in, even poor Claire, who still hears ghostly children all around her. Inside the house, they encounter a strange Val Kilmer/Johnny Depp hybrid, named Moreton, but he quickly abandons them. This movie is constructed like a Mad Libs game.

Luckily(I guess), Wally shows up. He re-introduces them to Moreton, who is some sort of computer whiz; and they also meet Sam, a female assistant of some sort for Wally. As everyone's getting to know one another, Claire wanders off to look at some of the other rooms on the ground floor. Everywhere she turns, she literally sees ghosts of the past tormenting her poor memory.

When she gets to the kitchen, Wally stops her from doing any further snooping. He gets the group to follow him upstairs, and announces that they are about to enter something called a "Corridor of Blood". It's actually a pretty mundane-looking hallway. Seeing that they all remain unimpressed, Wally dares Rudy to start to walk down the hall.

Soon enough, a clowny mashup of The Joker and Harvey Dent is conjured up. And he has an ax. Rudy taunts him, until they're just about toe-to-toe. Then the clown swings the weapon and de-materializes.

It turns out that he and the other ghosts are state-of-the-art holograms. And they further claim that the holograms are triggered by stress and fear emanating from the patrons.

What a load of gibberish. Wally leads the students to a basement-level control room, where a techie named Harrison is monitoring the rooms of the house, as well as tweaking the scary holograms. He reveals that he openly dislikes his boss, and Wally quickly ushers everybody out of the room. Oh, and Claire is still hearing murder and mayhem in her head.

She stops in her bedroom to calm down once more, and has a vision of the crazy killer whipping a child on the bed. The ghost seems to be aware of her, so Claire grabs a sheet, and covers the mirror.

There's a goofy, melodramatic scene, in which Wally talks to the students about how their job of scaring folks is both noble and cathartic. Now, I usually love watching Combs chewing the scenery in any movie, but honestly...he makes me cringe in this one. I don't know why, but I just can't get into his character at all. Geoffrey Rush did it better in House on Haunted Hill.

Oops, now we're back in the control room with Harrison. The computer program controlling the holographic effects is bugging out, and the whole system is glitching up! Somehow, a virus has infected the program.

As Harrison stares at his monitors, one screen fills up with a pair of eyes staring out at poor Harry. A face forms, and it speaks his name. Dumbass leans closer, and the monitor explodes, sending shards into Harrison's face and throat, and killing him in an instant.

Wally meets with the pair of reporters(one male, one female) doing the article on the Darrode house, and he fixes them drinks while they all talk. The male reporter implies that Wally is in real financial trouble if the Darrode attraction is a flop. Then the female reporter questions the decision to exploit the massacre of several children as entertainment. Wally points out that she's doing the same thing to sell issues of her magazine.

Then the preview tour commences. Wally watches from his office with his assistant Sam, as the journalists meet their "tour guides" in the front hall. Claire and Moreton introduce them to "The Shroud", who looks like a magician at a birthday party. He promises to frighten them in extreme ways, then he becomes a swarm of bats.

Wally and Sam then witness all of their monitors go to static as the clock strikes midnight. At the same time, the reporters are brought to "The Corridor of Blood", which is the only way to get to "The 6 Rooms of Doom"...which means I don't know what.

A demonic woman appears at the opposite end of the hallway, with some elongated, funky fingernails. Moreton whips out a comically huge crucifix and approaches the she-demon, and she impales him with her fingernails. More than once, in fact. Thinking that it's just part of the act, Claire leads the journalists past his corpse. An unseen entity drags the body into a room, the door slams, and there's a brief, terrified scream.

In the next area, Eldon is playing a demented mortician named Thaddeus Payne. the "corpse" on his slab has its eyes and mouth sewn shut, apparently to keep the evil soul within from escaping. Eldon removes the stitches from the mouth of the body, and several entities comprised of smoke and light fly around the room. Claire and the reporters exit the room, while Eldon cackles like a loon.

As Wally continues to fret about not being able to watch how the tour is going, Claire leads the reporters into a literal slaughterhouse area. Various body parts are hanging from hooks, with the severed heads begging to be rescued. the butcher is in the room as well, but his back is turned. The killer finally decides to pursue them, and they beat a hasty retreat.

The next area has a prison cage and police tape. Claire warns the pair not to step over the tape, and a group of savage vampire women lunge at them when they do. Eh, kind of tame after everything else so far.

Next up is a torture chamber. A guy is strapped inside an iron maiden, several victims are tied to chairs, and a woman is stretched out on a rack. The torturer gives the reporters the ability to vote on the fate of the one in the iron maiden, by giving a simple "thumb's up" or "thumb's down" to closing the spikes on them. The female reporter votes to spare the guy, so naturally, the torturer goes with the other vote, and kills his victim.

In the following room, Lily plays the role of some kind of clairvoyant or witch, named Zimba. She instructs them to step onto a pentagram on the floor. When they do as she asked, she predicts that they will both die in terrible ways, and then she vanishes.

Female demons surround the pentagram, and begin to dance and shapeshift. At the same time, the computer security program crashes, and announces a system failure. No big deal.

I guess it really wasn't, because Claire leads the journalists into yet another room. This time, they watch as a mad doctor experiments on a patient using corrosive acid to open them up. After the acid tears open the man's stomach and kills him, Claire gives the male reporter a flashlight, so that he can examine the wound up close.

As soon as he does, the doctor splashes a beaker of the acid all over his face. Claire realizes that it isn't a trick, and screams at the female reporter to find some staff to help. The reporter runs out crying, while Claire just stares helplessly at the dead man next to her on the floor.

The female reporter encounters a horde of spirits at a staircase, and tumbles down the stairs, snapping her neck. Rudy sees it happen, and leaps off of the couch. At the same time, Claire's screams bring the other students to her location. Everyone helpfully points out that holograms can't harm people, so Claire provides a compelling counterpoint: "Look at his face!"

Back at the stairs, Wally fantasizes about how much publicity these new deaths will bring to his tourist trap. The other group is still upstairs, because the torturer hologram now has Bruce in the iron maiden. The torturer lets them vote for his fate, but then just slams the device closed, killing Bruce with no warning. Then the killer turns into Miss Darrode, right before disappearing again.

They run downstairs before anything else can appear, and accuse Wally of being the mastermind behind all of the murders. Then they discover than none of their phones work. Amazing how those things always malfunction in these movies...

Eldon rushes for the front door, but it won't budge. The next enemy shows up behind him, though...a scary-looking knight, ready to bash Eldon's head in with a mace. As Eldon continues to evade the crazed attacker, Claire and Rudy try to force a door to open, but it's sealed tight.

Unfortunately, Eldon mistakenly assumes that he can win in a fight with the knight, so he grabs a sword mounted on the wall. The knight obliterates Eldon's head with his mace, leaving just a neck-stump geysering blood. As cool as it sounds, the CGI is pretty bad.

Sam grabs Ariel's hand, and urges her to abandon the rest. She leads the girl to a bathroom, claiming that a window in there is always unlocked. Why would Sam just let her escape? These are literally the 2 most under-developed characters in the movie. Oh, it turns out that Sam wants to "do" Ariel. Classy.

Claire tells the rest that the deaths are being orchestrated by Miss Darrode's angry spirit, but none of them are listening. Wally, in the meantime, is angrily pounding on the locked bathroom door and cursing at Sam. Is there still a script at this point? Was there EVER one?

Ariel helps Sam to open the window, but it slams shut again. Then a shrieking succubus appears in the tub, and coughs a steady jet of green smoke at them. As the room begins to fill up with the smoke, both women begin to choke on it.

Wally then remembers some sort of back-up fusebox on the second floor. Claire, upset that she's not the center of attention for 10 seconds, tells the others that she was in the house the day that the massacre happened.

That unleashes The Wrath of Lily, who blames Claire directly for all of the killings. Wally disagrees, claiming that Harris is behind it all. Oh, and get a brief glimpse of Sam and Ariel gasping for breath on the bathroom floor.

On the next floor, Wally reveals that the second control panel is behind a painting at the end of a long hallway. Rudy volunteers to open and disable it, and is told to remain calm, so as not to incur the violent nature of the holograms. Right, because they can detect your fear. I forgot about that entirely logical revelation.

Anyway, Rudy begins his journey to the end of the hall. Of course, a holographic monster shows up behind him. It's that scary clown, missing one half of his face. And holding the same monstrously big axe. Not a bad make-up job, to be honest.

At first, Rudy has no idea that he's being stalked. Until, naturally, everyone at the other end of the hall begin to yell and scream at him. Nice way to keep him calm.

After Rudy unscrews the panel in the wall, he glances back and spots the clown. Just as he starts to loosen the red wires, the clown throws his weapon, planting it in Rudy's spine. Then the lights go out. Well, at least if the power's out, then the monsters are no longer a threat, right?

As they stand around in the dark, Wally remembers another open window in the attic. Lily decides that she's going up to the attic by herself, since she no longer trusts Claire. She leaves Claire and Wally, who wander back out to the first floor staircase, as she starts toward the attic.

As soon as they split up, the electricity comes back on. Lily has a brief fright provided by Moreton's body. Then, as she starts her ascent, a hulking soldier shows up in the room. Liliy has just enough time to realize that "war is Hell", before the soldier shoots her to death.

As he begins to unlock the door to the control room, Wally is dragged away, kicking and screaming, by 3 grotesque lunatics. Claire flees into the control room, and uses an axe that she finds to destroy all of the computers and other machinery. The attackers come after her, but vanish as she destroys the computers.

Claire wanders the house, and her memories seem to be returning. When she gets to the attic, Claire sees a ghostly re-enactment of a torture session between Miss Darrode and a group of young kids sitting in a circle. She forces them, one by one, to recite biblical passages, then strikes each reader with a whip.

Then, Miss Darrode gets behind Claire, and accuses her of being possessed by a demon, and then killing the children herself. Claire runs away, and hides in the kitchen pantry. Deja vu, anyone?

She has another flashback, this time recalling that she convinced the other children to rebel against the abuse by burning their bibles. They build a fire, then each child takes a turn throwing a bible into the blaze. They don't realize it yet, but Miss Darrode is right behind them, watching and waiting.

When the last book is flung into the fire, Darrode screams, making all of the children jump. They all run deeper into the house, with the exception of Claire, who hides in that often-seen pantry. From there, Claire hears all of the other children screaming as they are being hacked to death.

Then the noise abruptly comes to an end. Claire cautiously sneaks up to the door, and peers through the keyhole. The psychotic old woman tries to draw her out of hiding, telling Claire that a demon by the name of Juvaar has possessed her young body.

Then Darrode sees all of the blood on her, drops a butcher knife into the sink, and turns on the garbage disposal. Remember this scene at the start of the movie? Well, we get to watch Darrode grind her hands up a second time. Anyone hungry?

Back in the present, Claire pleads with Darrode's ghost, accusing her of being the only sinner all those years ago. She faces the angry spirit, and challenges her, causing the ghost to vanish after being stabbed with her own knife.

The cops find Claire later, sitting on the kitchen floor, and smacking the knife into the floor. The cops decide that the trauma of being back in the house, added to perhaps missing her meds, most likely caused her to kill her classmates and the other haunted house workers. Heck, they even found her fingerprints on every weapon!

So that's that, right? Welllllll...not exactly. Claire is tucked away at a funny farm, and we meet 2 new characters, a young couple, and they're about to enter the Darrode house. Remember how Claire was hiding in the pantry during the massacre? Yeah, well, this character was the little girl who entered the house after her friends goaded her into it.

Now she's a young woman, and she's facing her worst fears by entering the house. Sound familiar? As she describes finding the bodies, an ominous black cloud floats past the couple, and heads upstairs.

She starts to relax, and the happy couple kiss. Then all of the windows and doors slam shut, and they scream. The final scene shows Claire in her padded cell, saying, "I didn't do it, I didn't do it!" THE END

Apologies for how long this one took. I've been overwhelmed with medical stuff lately, and it's been time-consuming and stressful. Hopefully I can catch up at some point, but I may just have to put stuff like this on hold, until I can get my health issues in order.

Anyway, enough about me. Back to Dark House. Much more entertaining than it looked, I have to say. Sure, it's a ripoff of House On Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, but it was still goofy fun. I'll give it 3.5 killer trees out of 5. If they had renamed the Walston Ray character, the score would be higher.

And what did I get out of watching Dark House?

-Holograms are harmless creations of light. Except when they kill people. Which they can't do. Anyone else confused?

-Abandoning a college course to work on a haunted house attraction just seems like the smartest decision you'll ever make!

-Kitchen pantries are like panic rooms for poor people.

Next up:Wrong Turn 5...Wait, they had 5 of those things?