The Scarehouse (2014)

I’ll admit it: this movie surprised me. And I don’t mind one bit.

sh13Real Life demands that I watch my horror movies on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a couple of hours, propped up in the living room with a cup of tea and the dog at my side, occasionally nudging me and reminding me that going out for Walkies or playing ball would be so much better than the crap on TV at the moment, oh and that tea looks delicious, too (Border Terriers are such tea addicts, it’s incredible).

So I have a narrow window where a movie can grab my interest, and keep me watching until the end, and SCAREHOUSE managed that. It certainly rose above the generic description on the VOD: “When two friends open a Halloween fun house on Devil’s Night, it’s all fun and games until their former sorority sisters begin to arrive. These six sisters are confronted by their past as the night spins out of control.”

Go on in, what's the worst that could happen?

Go on in, what’s the worst that could happen?

Bloody hell, that sounds promising, huh? Not like every other movie that’s ever been set in a haunted house and featuring sorority sisters. And look at that cover art. Beige paint is more garish. And let’s face it, such movies rely less on decent plots and kills and more on shots of nubile females in panties and maybe the odd girl-girl scenes.

As it happens, THE SCAREHOUSE, written and directed by Gavin Michael Booth (co-written by his wife Sarah Booth, who also stars in it) succeeded in making me stay with it until the end – which is quite an achievement for this oft-jaded reviewer of yours.

Find your own "All Tied Up" joke...

Find your own “All Tied Up” joke…

The movie opens with footage of some college girls in a bedroom, getting ready and fooling around and doing the usual giggly banter as they get ready to go out for the evening, and I swear to Cthulhu if this turns out to be a found footage movie I’m gonna hurl turds. But then we cut to two girls, Corey (Sarah Booth) and Elaina (Kimberley Sue-Murray) as they work alone setting up an elaborate haunted house attraction. It appears quite a large set up for only two people to manage, but what do I know?

Anyway, in the control room we see two CCTV cameras focused on what appear to be two entrances to the place, one with a large line of Yahoos come to get their scare jollies, and another, where one woman stands waiting to get in. The second camera is labelled “Slut Cam”, and the woman outside has been especially invited. She’s allowed inside, let’s herself get tied up, stripped, and have a corset strapped around her waist, and connected to a set of hydraulic cables. Corey and Elaina then begin a game of Truth or Dare.

Yay! Happy Hour!

Yay! Happy Hour!

By this point you realise a number of things: 1) the women are all in the cell phone footage 2) something terrible happened that sent Corey and Elaina to jail 3) the penalties in this particular game of Truth or Dare involve getting your corset tightened until your internal organs rupture and goo seeps out. Yuck. And their first victim is not their last, either, as the rest of the girls from the footage show up at different intervals, get captured and tortured by our leads to find out whose idea it was to send them to prison for whatever happened two years before. Meanwhile we keep cutting back RESERVOIR DOGS style to the flashback footage, as we eventually get to learn the tragedy.

Ouch...

Ouch…

Now, if the movie had continued like this, I might have dismissed it as mindless torture porn, which crossed the boredom threshold for me long ago. Fortunately for it, it proved distinctive on a number of levels. For one, the female dynamic: the cast is comprised almost entirely of women; a couple of drunken guys pop up here and there, and are quickly dismissed, and one guy, who is central to the tragedy, plays a different role to what you might expect in such movies. And this dynamic offers as much venom and menace as a movie with male antagonists would (not that this was ever a surprise to me; the female of the species, and all that), with abuse both physical and verbal (let’s face it, women know best how to get at other women where it hurts).

Ooh, who's up your back alley, dearie?

Ooh, who’s up your back alley, dearie?

For another, there is an attempt to make Corey and Elaina stand out, with the latter more unsure about the path of vengeance they’re taking, and whether or not all their victims deserve to die. The look of it is straight from the Eighties (in a good way), with garish colours and no shaky cameras. The makeup FX is plentiful, realistic and real rather than CGI (there’s also a variety to the kills, always a plus). And teh script is well-written, with some killer dialogue.

Not to say that the movie’s perfect. The non-linear structure between past and present is jarring at first, and focuses on the mystery of what happened at the expense of character – without knowing what the other girls did to our killing couple, it’s hard to edify any sympathy for them, or even know them as people (I couldn’t even keep track of their names, and if I detailed them here would refer to them as The Christian, The One With The Fake Boobs, the Asskicking One).

She's behind you!

She’s behind you!

Then there’s the plot holes: why would these girls be willing to show up alone at a haunted house attraction for no good reason? Why don’t they haul their asses out of there as soon as they recognise Corey and Elaina, the girls they sent to prison two years before? How did they set up the Scarehouse (a real-life haunted house attraction in Windsor, Ontario) with presumably no money or help?

Still, it kept me watching (and the ending was one I definitely did not expect), and it’s one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while, and would have made my Best Of list for 2014 if I’d seen it before writing it up. THE SCAREHOUSE is available now on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Gavin Michael Booth

Plot: 3 out of 5 stars

Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy, former member of Alpha Alpha Alpha House (“The fraternity with no imagination”)

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