House of Fears (2007)

Watching House of Fears was an object lesson in not judging a movie by its IMDB tagline. The one sentence available on the movie ("Six friends sneak into a haunted house the night before it opens for Halloween, only to find that their evening of fun has turned into their worst nightmare") made it sound like the worst kind of boring, formulaic dross. However, it turned out to be, well, actually, kind of good. Not brilliant, but solid.

Admittedly, things didn't start off well, with a generic sequence featuring a cursed African statue and overly sun-bleached visual, but the action quickly moves on... to Salem, Oregon. Which isn't the Salem of the witch trials, but is, according to Wikipedia, famous for its historial cherry industry. Scary.

Anyway, in Salem, it's the night before a haunted house Halloween attraction is due to open, and so a group of teenagers decide to break in and try it out before it's open to the general public. The characters aren't particularly original: there's Samantha, the obvious Last Girl (played by an actress I vaguely recognised from 2006's Unrest); there's her new stepsister Hailey, with whom she doesn't get on; there's Carter, a supposedly attractive boy Hailey is sort of dating; Zane, the wacky friend no-one actually seems to like; and a couple, Devon and Candice, who also don't really seem to get along with anyone, but are there because Zane fancies Candice. There's a bit of drama as Zane refuses to be paired up with Samantha, the only other single member of the group, and proposes a date-swap with Carter, but mostly the fact that no-one really likes any of the others is enough to cause tension later on. Zane is an employee of the haunted house, so to begin with he's able to guide the others around, but things quickly get out of control...

The inexplicably evil statue from the opening sequence is at the root of all the supernatural goings on, having been unceremoniously dumped at the House of Fears, but it's mostly irrelevant once things kick off. The titular House of Fears attraction looks like a really, really cool place to visit: it's made up of various chambers, each of which houses a common fear, and visitors pass through each chamber in turn, facing their worst nightmares. The house also has lots of secret passageways between the chambers so that the staff can move around to scare the unsuspecting visitors, which is obviously going to become an important feature later, and though many of the props look fake (the mummies, for example, aren't all that authentic), by Halloween attraction standards, it's amazing. If a House of Fears like that existed anywhere near me, I'd go there all the time. The beauty of the conceit, too, is that the film's low budget doesn't really matter; if parts of the set look a bit wooden or like they're made of papier mache, that's because they are; they're supposed to be.

The fun starts once the fears all start coming to life. Helpfully, the group all shared their worst fears with one another before embarking on this adventure, so the House knows exactly what to throw at them, no matter how unlikely (getting struck by lightning in the crotch, anyone?) they might sound. Despite Zane's listing off of all the fears the House contained at the beginning, we don't get to see all of them (spiders, notably, didn't make an appearance) but the ones we do see are great. Maybe it's my low expectations talking, but I really enjoyed most of the scare scenes here. It wasn't terrifying, but there were enough bizarre things going on to make things interesting, and although picking the Last Girl was easy enough, judging which (if any) of the others would also make it out of the House wasn't as simple as I'd thought, with strong contenders offed early on.

Ultimately, House of Fears is the most dangerous kind of movie for me: it looked like it should have been terrible, but actually turned out to be decently watchable. It's films like this that keep me watching terrible, crap-sounding low-budget movies by giving me that seed of hope. Damn you, House of Fears.

IMDB link


Newscoma said...

Don't you hate it when you expect to hate something and then it's good.
Horror Movies ...
The last great mystery 'cause you never know what you are going to get.

Ollie said...

It sounds like Tobe Hooper's "The Funhouse". I watched it for the first time when I was 10 or 11, with a friend who was 8, and I'm proud to say he needed to see a psychologist after that!