Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: American Horror House (2012)

The new house of the Kappa Whatever sorority is not the best house the sisterhood could have rented after their old building burned down. Not only does the building have quite a bad backstory, and not only is the live-in landlady, Miss Margot (Morgan Fairchild), supremely creepy, there's also the little problem of the house being full of murderous ghosts with various plot-appropriate reality-deforming powers. At first, the ghosts' handful of murders aren't really all that conspicuous, particularly because these undead like to clean up the bodies they leave behind very quickly. Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all.

However, this more subtle approach to carnage changes on the day and night of the Kappas' big Halloween party. The ghosts start working overtime, each of their victims filling the ranks of the undead menace. It falls to the only person in the house who isn't a total twat, new pledge Daria (the perfectly likeable Alessandra Torresani), to find out why the ghosts and their house are doing what they are doing and try and stop it.

It is frighteningly official: now that I've seen the third SyFy Channel movie in a row I actually enjoyed, I'm not allowed to use "SyFy Channel Original" as short-hand for "exactly the kind of lazy low budget movie that gives low budget films a bad reputation" anymore. Well, at least there's still The Asylum to look down on.

Anyway, as the above synopsis should make clear, Darin Scott's American Horror House isn't much of a narrative, and that's even before you spend a single second thinking about the utter silliness of what's going on in it. It's the horror movie as haunted house ride, lacking all subtlety, subtext (unless the traditional "sororities are deeply problematic" counts, which it doesn't), and often enough logical coherence, so if you just need a bit of substance or depth in your horror movies, this will be less than satisfying.

However, Scott never sets out to provide that kind of depth, and consequently, it seems rather unfair to blame the movie for its lack. Particularly when American Horror House achieves what it actually sets out to do perfectly: it's to be the sort of horror movie in which at least every second scene contains either some spooky manifestation or a gory murder. The film dives into this mission with relish, turning most of the spooking into supremely grotesque and/or surreal tableaux, like a fast-paced best of from the strangest scenes of US and Italian horror from the late 80s and the 90s. It's in the same generous spirit of the bizarre that gave us the Demoni films and the Night of the Demon movies, and I for my part am quite happy with this.

Speaking of the gore - which is frequent and awesome -, Scott doesn't go for any sort of realism there either, preferring the grotesque to the anatomically probable, as is only right and proper for a film in this spirit. So you'll learn some valuable lessons about tongues, how to extract someone's guts through his mouth, and get other helpful tips that'll be no help at all in your future serial killer career.

American Horror House keeps its level of fun horror nonsense up for the largest part of its running time, only faltering in its final ten minutes or so when it becomes clear that Scott (or script writer Anthony C. Ferrante) don't have the slightest idea how to end this one properly (hint: exploding house), and so go for the kind of lame, pseudo-dark, non-ending that has plagued horror films forever. Fortunately, there's way too much fun to be had with the film before this happens, so American Horror House still comes highly recommended to my sisters and brothers in being easily amused by surreal violence and non-stop running around in their movies.

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