As a kid, when Judge Daryl Loomis lost a tooth, all he ever got was a spanking.
A secret lies within.
Children and horror have gone together smoothly since, at the very latest, 1960's Village of the Damned. I'm not sure what it is, whether it's their natural innocence or their willingness to accept supernatural and fantastic ideas, their presence in horror just makes sense. That said, since Ringu and the late '90s influx of Japanese horror movies, the idea of the long-haired little girl has become one of the most obvious of modern genre cliches. Nowadays, a decade plus later, movies that use them are often dismissed, but I know well that horror is an inherently unoriginal genre, so I have no problem giving one a fair shot. With that in mind, we have The Haunting of Helena, a movie that's rooted in a thousand things we've all seen before, but works out pretty well.
In it, we find Sophia (Harriet MacMasters-Green), a single mother whose daughter, Helena (Sabrina Jolie Perez), is so excited to get her first visit from the tooth fairy that she distracts her mom into getting their car run off a bridge. While ostensibly fine, Helena starts acting strangely, claiming the tooth fairy craves her teeth. Soon, though, Sophia starts to see things, as well and, after a little research, discovers the horrific history of her house and now the past is coming back for revenge.
Had I not been assigned The Haunting of Helena for review, I probably would have turned it off after the first big sequence. It's not that it's particularly bad in its execution, it's really not. The problem is that it's a set-up that every horror fan has seen a hundred times, and the tactic, generally, leads to a reveal that couldn't be more obvious and something I'm done sitting ninety minutes to find out.
Luckily, directors Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini, in their first feature, show a little more savvy than that by basically abandoning that idea wholesale and starting on a new one. That idea, originally called Fairytale, takes the weird notion of the tooth fairy into the realm of horror. Adding that to a standard story of a long forgotten crime in the house where they live and you have a pretty solid ghost story, not one that's opening anybody's eyes to new possibilities in the genre, but one that works well enough for what it's trying to do.
The director pair put together a relatively stylish production in The Haunting of Helena. It's nothing flashy, but it looks nice, with a decent spattering of gore thrown around. This is especially true for people with issues about mouth stuff. People who hate the dentist will squirm at some of the scenes here and, while they're never over the top, they are effective in helping build the creepy atmosphere that takes the story to its weird, unfortunately confused conclusion.
Given that it's probably the biggest problem in horror, the terrible ending isn't such a big deal. The performances are relatively good and the direction is pretty smooth throughout. Its use of the fairytale and its lack of conventional scares, all while still maintaining a quality atmosphere, make The Haunting of Helena an interesting, if inessential, piece of independent horror.
The Haunting of Helena comes to DVD in a decent edition from Vivendi Entertainment. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks very good, with nice clarity and accurate colors. It has a little bit of a rough look to it, but that's clearly intentional, and the black levels, in general, look pretty strong. The 5.1 surround mix is decent, though nothing special. The dialog and music are crisp and clear, but there's only a minimal amount of work in the rear channels.
Extras are scant, with a behind-the-scenes featurette, a few interviews with the cast and crew, and a brief look at some of the special effects work as the entire slate. They're insubstantial and a little weak, but it doesn't bother me too much.
The Haunting of Helena doesn't do anything with the horror genre than we haven't seen before, but Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini execute their story pretty well for a relatively impressive debut and a perfectly solid horror film. Nothing about it is revelatory or anything like that, but for diehard genre fans, it's totally worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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