Judge Patrick Naugle's lights are on, but nobody's home.
Evil lives inside.
Nick Di Santo (Luke Kleintank, Gossip Girl) has the power to touch people and see their deaths. This curse has haunted Nick for years, and when goes to visit his mother (Lesley Anne-Down, The Great Train Robbery) in a mental asylum to get some answers, she attempts to tell him about the father that he never knew. Before he can gather information, his mentally unstable mother dies in a tragic accident but leaves her son clues to Nick's past and his mysterious father. Nick heads out on a road trip with his pregnant girlfriend, Eve (Alex McKenna, What Women Want), and best friend, Ryan (Anthony Ray Perez, Don't Pass Me By), to see if they can piece together Nick's past. Their journey takes them to dilapidated backwoods house that holds a special connection to Nick's dysfunctional family. With the help of some county road workers (including Freddy vs. Jason's Zach Ward), Nick enters the house and meets a seemingly malevolent old man (Tobin Bell of Saw fame) who may or may not hold the key to Nick's past.
Writer/director Victor Salva has had a tumultuous career in Hollywood. Salva began writing and directing movies in 1986 with the low budget shocker Something in the Basement, which caught the attention of legendary Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola helped Salva finance his first film, another B-level freak show film called Clownhouse (which starred a then-unknown Sam Rockwell). During that film's production Salva, only 29 years old at the time, sexually molested a 14-year-old actor on the film set. Salva was arrested, charged, and convicted of child molestation and sentenced to three years in prison. The director was released after 15 months and went on to helm Disney's supernatural drama Powder in 1995. During that film's release word spread about Salva's past, and the controversy almost eclipsed any artistic mert Powder may have held. Since the mid01990s, Salva has made over a half dozen more films including the horror hit Jeepers Creepers (and its sequel). Yet Salva's past continues to haunt him; his personal demons have tended to upstage any monstrosities he puts on the screen.
Regardless of Salva's despicable past, I'm a fan of Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2. Salva's morals may be questionable, but he has a sure hand when it comes to creating a tense, well constructed scary movie. Unfortunately, whatever polish and creativity Salva was able to wring out of the Jeepers Creepers franchise, he fails to inject in the lackluster and exceptionally boring (and blandly titled) Dark House.
There are flashes of Salva's earlier—and far better—efforts in Dark House; the director has a keen eye for staging tension even in broad daylight. When Nick and his friends first visit the old house, they're attacked by men in trench coats—brandishing axes, no less—who come at them like rabid monkeys. Their eventual chase through a forest is fraught with danger and frights. It's in these moments that Dark House feels like it could have become a truly tense horror experience. Sadly, all Dark House ends up being is a variation on the groove-worn haunted house theme. There's little in the way of originality, and what uniqueness does exist is all but wiped clear because the pace is so sluggish.
Like so many horror movies that came before it, Dark House features young actors who don't make much of an impression. Luke Kleintank's Nick Di Santo is a bland male lead who spends the majority of the film overacting whenever he touches someone and sees their eventual demise. Alex McKenna as his pregnant girlfriend Eve is equally as mediocre. In fact, the only actors who provide more than just line recitals is Zach Ward as a road surveyor caught up in the dark house's terror, and horror staple Tobin Bell as the menacing leader of the monstrous ax-wielding villains (Bell seems to be channeling his Jigsaw killer from the pervious Saw movies, only to lesser effect).
I like a good old fashioned horror movie as much as the next guy, but haunted house movies have become so clichéd and rote that they're ripe for parody. Oh wait, that's right—they already did that in Scary Movie 2 and A Haunted House. Maybe it's time to let this genre lay dormant for a while before we end up with yet another Paranormal Activity sequel.
Or worse yet: Dark House: Part II.
Dark House is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. The image quality for this low budget shocker is very good; the colors are bright and clear with solid black levels all around. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio actually helps the film feel larger than scope than it actually is. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. This is actually a fairly well done audio mix that features a creepy music score by composer Bennett Salvay and a generous amount of surround sounds. There are no alternate soundtracks or subtitles available on this disc.
The only bonus feature included on this disc is a rather tepid, 20 minute EPK promo piece on the making of Dark House.
Victor Salva's Dark House fails on almost every level of the horror spectrum. A few tense moments aren't enough to raise it out of the muck and mire of the tired haunted house genre. Let's hope Salva's next film is the announced but oft-delayed Jeepers Creepers 3.
Not worth the visit.
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