In the vein of slumber party massacre films boasting scantily-clad coeds and voyeuristic pleasures, Girlhouse exploits the sleazy subgenre by throwing pornography into the mix – because it wasn’t easy enough to get girls topless in horror films already. There’s more to Trevor Matthews’ raunchy thriller than horny webcam girls and strip-lawn-golf, though, as writer Nick Gordon blends the already perverse nature of VH1 reality shows with the dangerous internet predators that we choose to believe don’t exist. Some websites already give subscribers more access than necessary to sexy performers, but Gordon goes a step further by introducing an emotional undertone that deceivingly creates a bond between male customers and their favorite muse. Obsessed, aroused men falling in love with online strippers – what could go wrong?! (A lot.)
Ali Cobrin plays Kylie Atkins, the newest model checking into an online brothel known as Girlhouse. Created by Gary Preston (James Thomas) – the self proclaimed Hugh Hefner of the 21st century – his site offers users the option to hop room to room in a house rigged with fifty surveillance cameras, capturing every sexy moment between the female tenants. Models aren’t forced into situations they’d rather not engage in, but bonuses are rewarded to the highest hit-getters, so debauchery runs rampant throughout the house. Security is never an issue, as the complex is monitored by a control room and impenetrable firewalls, but a user named Loverboy dares to challenge just how safe the girls are when he finds himself being disrespected. While Girlhouse may be impervious to hackers, a serial killer presents an entirely new problem that no one could have imagined.
Where movies like The Den and Open Windows adopt a completely first-person camera view focused only on chat windows and laptop screens, Girlhouse splits time between mounted cameras, Girlhouse viewing windows, and traditional 3rd-person lensing. This provides a few revealing perspectives on the same scene, using Kylie’s first striptease as a strong example.
While staring at the Girlhouse screen from an audience member’s gaze, Kylie looks like she’s dancing only for us – like she’s connected on a level beyond simple art. But cutting away to Kylie’s room removes the cloud of misconception like a dissipating fog, as we see another more experienced character commenting and giving her pointers from a doorway that’s not visible on screen. Each point-of-view is integral to Matthews’ ability to mount tension, because he lets us understand how hypnotized sad-sacks could come to think that these girls actually invest emotions in private chatrooms. Plus, a bigger horror is revealed – you never know who or what’s actually on the other side of a screen.
Girlhouse is haunted by a killer who calls back to William Lustig’s Maniac, played by the man known only as “Slaine” (or George Carroll if you actually click on his IMDB profile). It’s not a definitive role upon first glance, as Loverboy is nothing but a socially awkward deviant lacking the confidence to interact with woman as normal males would, but once he puts on his female mask, intrigue builds. I wouldn’t say Slaine is one for dramatics, but the way Loverboy full-on sprints around the house like a bull in a China shop actually brings a grounded realism. The inexperience is obvious and honest. Ignored are the methods of horror’s most illustrious icons, thinking back to the way Jason slowly approaches cowering victims, as Loverboy instead attacks with frantic ferocity and an alarming state of urgency – a rare quality that Slaine brings to an otherwise forgettable killer.
Matthews’ film isn’t all roses though, as the introductory scenes and building story work do exhibit some amateurish scripting and pretty mundane interactions. Thomas likes to think his character is the next Hugh Hefner, but the way he blandly explains how he spotted Kylie and KNEW she’d be a Girlhouse star is far too hammy, and the circumstances only get more hilarious as each performer is introduced, heightening in vulgarity with each new name. The gore is spot-on, which is why Girlhouse is able to win viewers over in the end (a girl attempts to type with fingers cut off at the knuckles/lots of broken bones/vicious hacksaw usage), but waiting for Loverboy’s explosion is nothing but a cheap skinfest that we could have found anywhere else on the internet, for free.
Thankfully, in the end, it’s Loverboy’s violent killing spree that separates Matthews’ efforts from many other failures. While films like Cam2Cam and Lucky Bastard have walked the same sick techno-horror path, Girlhouse jumps ahead of the pack by delivering a bone-crunching finale once the actual horror elements are thrust into motion. It’s still a rough-around-the-edges erotic thriller, but Girlhouse is nice enough to apologize for a sloppy first act by hunkering down and finishing the job like a damn professional – moneyshot and all.
Girlhouse is just another nudie horror flick at first glance, but a strong finale finishes things off with a bloody, satisfying moneyshot.