Though it won a Fangoria readers’ prize, Darin Scott’s movie proves a very mild haunted house opus whose low-budget special effects prove more risible than scary. It also features some of the worst acting you’re likely to have witnessed on the big screen in some tine.
And that’s despite the fact that the ensemble of young performers—led by Meghan Ory as the heroine Claire—are supposed to be serious drama students. In addition to Claire, they include such stock figures as blonde bombshell Ariel (Bevin Prince), football star Rudy (Matt Cohen), goth girl Lily (Shelly Cole), computer wiz (and token black guy) Eldin (Danso Gordon) and wiseacre geek Bruce (Rylan Melander). They’re all hired by flamboyant haunted house entrepreneur Walston (Jeffrey Combs) to act in a publicity presentation he’s hosting for press at his newest attraction, a high-tech spookfest at the old Darrode mansion, where a crazed foster mother murdered a slew of children years before.
What Claire doesn’t tell anyone is that she suffers from traumatic dreams in which she discovered the victims as a young girl, and her moronic psychiatrist has advised her to return to the joint and face her fears. Unfortunately it’s eventually revealed that she was the only one of the kids who escaped the rampage, and now the spirit of Mrs. Darrode (Diane Louise Salinger) has returned. She takes over the holographic computer system that produces the horrifying characters for Walston’s show (images with which the live performers are meant to interact), and uses it to systematically wipe out most of the cast before turning her attention to Claire, her ultimate target.
“Dark House” is basically a throwback to the cheap teen horror flicks of the eighties, but it lacks panache and a sense of fun. It’s amusing to watch Combs, of “Re-Animator” fame, chew the scenery again—less so to observe Salinger do likewise as the murderous woman moved, as usual, by religious mania. But the effects on which so much of the movie depends are of modest quality, being the sort of thing most teens could work up on home computers nowadays, and the young actors are dreadful, with Ory in particular coming off as utterly amateurish. But the rest aren’t appreciably better.
If “Dark House” is the best the Fangoria contest had to offer, next time they need to cast the net wider. But for those interested, it and the other seven finalists will be out on disc and the internet a week after its modest theatrical release, exclusively via Blockbuster.