Victor Salva has experienced his highs and lows, spanning a career including Clownhouse, Jeepers Creepers, and some other movies about albinos and such – but just when you thought a trip down Rosewood Lane was the worst Salva could do, he found shelter in Dark House. Personally, I believe Jeepers Creepers was a bit of a lucky victory, as Salva absolutely tries to recreate that same independent horror vibe, but as axe-wielding lunatics run on all fours, chasing our group of house hunting victims, Salva’s latest attempt becomes sillier and sillier. Casting Tobin Bell might bring horror credibility in some circles, but not even Jigsaw could save this ridiculous bit of realty horror – and no, that’s not just because of the house’s price. I guess it’s never a good sign when you can describe a film as a “fixer upper.”
Nick De Santo (Luke Kleintank) never knew his father, has a mentally unstable mother, and possesses a dark gift. Sometimes when making physical contact with other people by touching them, he can visualize how they’ll die – an event that drains him of energy. Viewed as the town sideshow, Nick struggles to stay under the radar, but when his mother passes, he learns that he’s inherited a new house with some secrets of its own. Setting out with his pregnant wife and best friend, Nick looks to answer questions that have plagued his entire life – the only problem is, those answers may be much darker and dangerous than he’s willing to accept.
Victor Salva plays his cards extremely close to his chest with Dark House, saving reveals and explanations until the bitter end, but Nick De Santo’s family drama unfolds like a befuddling mess of horror ideas without a single shred of clarity. Nick’s clairvoyant powers introduce a psychologically thrilling aspect, as brutal deaths invade his mind and throw him back as if he’d just been bitch-slapped by Satan, but, um, why doesn’t he try to warn those people that he knows will suffer a horrible fate? Nick is a borderline superhero who could warn people of untimely deaths, yet he shrugs his “curse” off and watches people march to their deaths. Revealing itself early on in Dark House, this ignored insanity was only red flag numero uno.
Crumbling under the weight of a rotting, deteriorated foundation, Dark House descends into even more maddening story failures as Nick’s mother haunts fuzzy memory sequences, people talk to ventilation systems, Tobin Bell goes through a Seattle-inspired grunge phase and open basement doors summon axe-wielding monsters. Again, Salva doesn’t want to spoil any surprises, but by the time everything comes together in an “angels vs. demons” kind of battle, we’ve already lost interest in Bell’s crew of killers and why they run on all fours like feral animals. Why, why, why! Pacing is completely thrown off as we struggle tirelessly to answer questions swirling about our minds, as Nick’s obsession with a supposedly haunted house yields little tension and massive annoyance.
It’s not that Luke Kleintank gives a poor performance as Nick De Santo, or supporting cast members like Zack Ward bore, but when characters are crafted without motive, intelligence, or reason, long-term investment becomes more of a chore than necessary. Actions make absolutely no sense either. Whether it’s Nick endangering his pregnant wife, or a couple breaking off to have sex in the middle of a creature filled forest of death, Dark House is packed with the same bland stereotypes. You feel for a main character who becomes linked to death himself, but that sympathy soon turns to stupefying belief – a pox on the worst of horror movies.
Dark House ends as a completed idea, but leads a twisting, convoluted path to reach our destination. Salva’s film is about as tacky as your grandmother’s plastic-covered furniture. It will at least keep the momentary gore from staining the upholstery, but not even the smoothest realtor could flip this eyesore without a fight. I don’t care how broken your family is – when a demon house survives a flood without sustaining longing damage, you probably should just leave it be. Don’t go looking for answers when an intimidating man carrying a weapon “suggests” you leave. Oh, and when you predict people’s deaths in the same damn forest you’re about to enter – why the hell aren’t you turning around? I give up. Nick De Santo, congratulations on being the worst superhero in the history of the universe.
Dark House could really benefit from an Extreme Home Makeover, because as it stands, this is one architectural mess of a horror film.