The Story: A felon is sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home… which, unfortunately for her, is haunted.
Expectations: This one has been on my watch list since the beginning of the month, but I’ve been avoiding it because Netflix lists it as a horror-comedy. I’ve already written about my misgivings with horror-comedies, in my review of COOTIES, but I'm feeling like maybe I was too dismissive. After all, I’ve seen some pretty good horror-comedies in recent years: TUCKER & DALE VS.EVIL, BLACK SHEEP and RUBBER come to mind. So....
Reaction: A few years ago, I worked on a haunted house "reality" show. Every episode was basically the same story: Each show starts with a family moving into a new house, and ends with the family confronting exorcising their literal and figurative demons. What almost never happened was what I assume I’d do if I moved into a haunted house: I'd move out. As producers, we constantly had to explain to viewers (and to ourselves) why all these people chose to stay in their homes, if they really believed they were being haunted by angry ghosts and/or unholy demons.
I loved the fact that HOUSEBOUND deals with this problem right up front. If our heroine leaves the house, she will get arrested. So when she gets her first inclination that the house might be haunted, she starts unraveling a big tangled web of mysteries…. while the filmmakers introduce us to the ghosts of horror movies past. Right away, there’s a hilarious homage to CHILD’S PLAY, followed by a lot of love for Sir Alfred Hitchcock. About halfway through, HOUSEBOUND resembles nothing so much as a supernatural version of REAR WINDOW. And I'm generally a sucker for REAR WINDOW homages.
But this brings me to one of my biggest misgivings about recent horror movies in general. Most of them seem to be built on the assumption that audiences need constant twists and turns. The way most modern horror films deliver these twists and turns is by mimicking the twists and turns of older horror movies. A lot of older horror movies. Anyone who has been watching horror movies for a few decades is bound to regard most 21st century American horror films as a patchwork of old, familiar stories... which makes it hard to point to these newer films as “classics.”
I don’t mean to be pointedly critical of HOUSEBOUND, because it's a smart film with a great sense of humor. To the writer/director Gerard Johnston'es credit, it's a horror-comedy in the best possible way: it anticipates the unintentional humor of all genre clichés recycled here, and plays them for intentional humor. And, from my perspective, it’s actually funny because it's not too over the top. Johnston’s affection for the genre allows him to cleverly ape Hitchcock… and giallo-era Dario Argento… and Wes Craven's PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS... and SCANNERS. For all those reasons, I loved it…. Maybe as much as a cranky old horror geek can love anything “new.”
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The face in the wall.