We’ve all heard the old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, and I’m sure all of us, male or female, can easily recall experiences in our lives that substantiate this cliche. Legend, literature, and film has often borne out this sentiment, from the jealous rages of the ancient Greek goddesses to the self-centered yet unwavering determination of Scarlett O’Hara. Far from discounting them as the weaker gender, the artists and writers throughout the generations have seen the strength of this creature known as Woman, and have shown us her resilience, her power, and why her wrath is something that should be respected…often even feared. Horror films haven’t overlooked this little fact, either; films such as Happy Birthday To Me, Urban Legend, and even the original Friday The 13th show us women as the “monsters”, the vicious, unrelenting killers that mercilessly seek revenge for the wrongs done to them, rather real or perceived.
Writer/Director Gavin Michael Booth’s 2014 film The Scarehouse is one that we can add to that list; a standout in the genre for having an almost entirely female cast, it’s an interesting blend of gritty revenge film and in-your-face torture flick.
The tale begins as a group of sorority sisters are planning a night out for the initiation/acceptance of one of two pledges to become their new “sister”. The group is working on hair, makeup, attire…and we’re privy to the catty trash-talk and thinly-veiled competitive insults that fly back and forth through the dorm. Something horrible happens that night, however, something we’re not told, and the lives of the two young pledges will be forever altered…
Flash forward a couple years, and those same two pledges are running a haunted attraction, one of them having used her engineering skills to design a largely self-sufficient, automated “scary house”…but it’s not long before we discover that this attraction isn’t all that it seems. The terror and peril will not be all in fun for some people, and as those familiar sorority sisters from that night two years ago begin arriving one by one, it’s horrifically apparent that the “funhouse” design for the public is all just a smokescreen for the real purpose of the attraction; it was built just for this night, just for them…
When I first sat down to check this one out, I was expecting a rehash of House On Sorority Row or Slumber Party Massacre…I have to say, I was pleasantly disappointed. What I found in place of a ham-handed retread was a smartly-written, fantastically-acted bit of horror cinema. Booth’s script was organic and believeable; not once did any of the dialogue seem forced or trite. The story, of course, uses that basic staple of the maligned pledge seeking comeuppance from those who wronged her, but in this case, the knobs are cranked to eleven, with both the circumstances of the wrongdoing and the lengths (and depths) that the two young women are willing to go to for this vengeance is off the charts.
The acting was very, very good across the board, with each actress breathing convincing, tangible life into their individual characters; I didn’t find the expected cardboard cut-out fodder, but distinct personalities with strengths and frailties that I was brought to know quickly but naturally. Far from the wilting lilies that populate some horror flicks, these girls aren’t willing to go down without a fight, quite literally in a couple of cases (while I’m mentioning that, watch for the one girl that I think deserves the Most Dedicated To Surviving Award…I swear, Jigsaw himself would give this kid a pass…you can’t miss it). Whereas the scripting plays a large part in these strong characterizations, I still gotta tip my hat to all of the actresses for the work they turned in; very nice job, ladies. 🙂
Focusing on the two antagonists, Sarah Booth and Kimberly-Sue Murray, this pair carries much of the burden of the plot with their performances. The dynamic between these two is very kinetic, with the bonds of friendship being very apparent and natural, but at the same time presenting us with almost diametric opposites. Booth’s character, Corey, is the violent, emotive side of the coin, with Murray’s Elaina bringing the more sympathetic and intellectual side of the duo to the table (that said, don’t let my description pigeonhole them; both of these characters have some surprises in them).
The drama that unfolds between these two gives the film a layer of depth that is often only touched on in horror flicks.
Effects-wise, while there’s not an overwhelming amount of blood and gore, what you do get is realistic and visceral (I’ll never look at an eyelash crimper the same way again), and in the context of the film, very satisfying. Overall, the film has a very polished look, with a much higher veneer than it’s budget should have allowed.
The only real complaint that I have is that coming out of the gate, I found the narrative a little hard to follow; it wasn’t overtly clear as to exactly what the hell was going on or why for the first twenty minutes or so. All the loose ends do get tied up, but getting there requires you to really be paying attention with the way the film moves from past to present and back again, filling in the blanks in the plot as you go along. This was a bold move with the script, and I can see both sides of the argument as to whether or not it was the wisest of decisions. For me, it was a draw; although it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film, it still took me out of the story for a minute once or twice as I’d try to get what was happening straight in my head.
I had a good time with this one, folks; it kept my attention throughout, never dragged, gave me characters I came to give a damn about (both good and bad!), and at times even made me flinch. The story was familiar, yet original enough in its execution that, even though I felt a little lost for a bit there in the first half, I still came away with a smile on my face.
Personally, I can’t ask for much more than that.
Two cents gone.
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As an added bonus, we have a “prank” video that Booth did for (or should that be, “to”) his actors prior to the film’s premiere. Enjoy!