Directed By: Darin Scott
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Meghan Ory, Diane Salinger
Tag line: "Death Lives Here"
Trivia: The rope Diane Salinger uses to beat the children was made out of foam
Winner of the award for Best Horror Film at 2009’s Shriekfest, director Darin Scott’s Dark House is far from perfect, but it does get a few things right.
We open with a flashback to 14 years earlier, where we see the aftermath of a murderous rampage. Miss Darrode (Diane Salinger), the overly-religious guardian of a handful of foster kids, killed seven of the tykes before taking her own life in an extremely gory fashion (she put her hands into the kitchen sink’s garbage disposal until they were chewed to bloody stumps). Flash to modern day. Claire Thompson (Meghan Ory), a college student studying to be an actress, was, as a young girl, a witness to the killings, and is blocking the memory of these events. Her psychiatrist (Tim Snay) tells her that the only way she can move forward is to revisit the Darrode house, which he believes will give her the closure she desires.
To Claire’s surprise, the opportunity to return to the scene of her trauma presents itself almost immediately when, during that afternoon's acting class, master showman Walston (Jeffrey Combs) bursts in, offering anyone interested a $300 payday if they’ll perform in his latest masterpiece, a haunted attraction that just so happens to be set up inside the Darrode house. Her fellow thespians: Rudy (Matt Cohen), Lily (Shelly Cole), Eldon (Danso Gordon), Bruce (Ryan Melander) and Ariel (Bevin Prince), initially balk at the idea, but Claire manages to convince them it’s a good opportunity to practice their craft. The attraction, called “Dark House”, is state-of-the-art, with hundreds of terrifying holograms guaranteed to scare the pants off anyone who wanders in. But not all of the house’s apparitions are computer generated, and before long, the spirit of the evil Miss Darrode has gained control of the holograms, transforming the harmless projections into actual killers!
As I said, Dark House has some issues. First off, the performances are so-so, with the exception of Jeffrey Combs, who’s incredibly over-the-top, yet always interesting, as the flamboyant Walston; and Diane Salinger as the creepy Miss Darrode (to be fair, Meghan Ory also has a few good scenes as the traumatized Claire). What’s more, the movie suffers from occasionally poor CGI (as is usually the case, the computer-generated blood looks terrible). To top it off, there are elements of the film’s story that are so ridiculous they’re almost laughable (by some miracle of modern programming, the holograms are only triggered when they sense fear). One thing Dark House has going for it, however, are the sequences featuring those holograms. During a demonstration, two reporters (Erin Cummins and Ian Reed Kesler) are given a tour of the house to see the horrific scenes set up throughout. In one room, there’s a butcher who’s gone on a killing spree, with body parts hanging by hooks all around his shop (the severed heads continue to talk). Another room features a coven of witches, and yet another contains female vampires, which don’t appear until you cross a line drawn on the floor. There’s even a deranged clown that patrols the hallway with an ax! As outlandish as the premise of Dark House is, its creative attractions had me wishing it was real.
These scenes, as well as an intriguing twist at the end, make Dark House a fairly entertaining watch, but I advise you to keep your expectations low.