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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor  [January 18, 2013]





[]  Last year Sweet Home Films's Blood Rush offered a retro take on zombies. Now the California-based indie production company's new film -- Horror House -- tackles another tried-and-true subgenre -- the horror anthology film.

Blood Rush had its slow spots, inviting boredom, yet Horror House moves more briskly. Its five relatively original (if relatively bloodless) tales hold our attention. Happily, no zombies or vampires or slashers in sight. Also keeping our interest fresh is that each story has its own visual style.

Since indie films are often used as industry calling cards, was Horror House's visual variety meant to showcase the filmmaker's production skills to prospective employers -- or was there an aesthetic intent?

"We wanted each short film to look unique," said writer/ producer/actress Kerry Finlayson to the Hollywood Investigator. "Yes, in part this was a strategic decision to demonstrate our ability to create various film styles. But also [director] Evan Marlowe gets bored easily. He would get impatient using the same style to tell many different stories, and would want to experiment."

Marlowe's production skills have improved since Blood Rush. Some scenes in Horror House still have a flatly lit, shot-on-video look, but other scenes are more polished, showing post-production efforts at color correction. The acting remains a mixed bag, ranging from decent to still-needs-work, but even so, the performances are a notch above those in Blood Rush (despite some of the same actors appearing in both films).



Horror House opens with a slick-talking realtor (nicely performed by an exuberant Lloyd Kaufman) hawking the merits of a lovely suburban house with an unfortunate past. Many strange and grisly deeds went down behind its pristine walls, each one forming a tale of woe.

* "Never Let Go" introduces us to twin girls, one good, one evil. The evil one plots to kill their mom. Some nice surprises crop up along the way. Although we've seen similar story elements and themes in previous horror films, we don't see them coming in this one. "Never Let Go" remixes old horror tropes into something new.

* "Be Careful What You Wish For" is a black-and-white noirish tale, with occasional splashes of color. A detective questions a femme fatale about a possible murder, his only clue a tarot card. The card's bright colors are skillfully rendered amid the black-and-white; however, the "red" blood looks orange. This is Horror House's weakest tale in terms of story and acting. The dialog is obvious and clichéd. The acting rings false. In going for a hyper-styled noir delivery, the performances come across as artificial and just "trying too hard."



* "Hot Stuff" is the requisite tale of moral comeuppance -- a horror anthology staple -- and Horror House's most fun story. A sleazy pickup artist sweet-talks a woman into bed, then callously kicks her out the next morning, mocking her birthmark along the way. (Oh yeah, he also sorta has a girlfriend.) But the ditched woman -- a witch! -- curses him so he'll know just how "hot" he really is.

Once again, the dialog is obvious and clichéd, lacking subtext or subtley -- but this time it works, mostly because it fits the story's broad satire. The special effects are good, particularly the neatly done -- and often funny -- small touches, such as the burn holes in the man's shirt (that he seems not to notice) and the smoke left by the witch's finger.

Because the man is slowly heating up, Finlayson says, the early scenes are tinted blue to suggest coolness. "Also, Michael Daniel, the composer, started with 'cool' tones, layering in 'warm' horns as we go along."

* "Lifelike" is Horror House's most original tale. A bizarro story about an abused young girl who grows up so obsessed with her Japanese doll, she increasingly resembles it.

Once again, we are offered some nice twists. Raised expectations are not met, whereas the unexpected surprises us. Amid some unsettling and ugly scenes, Lauren Lakis offers a creepy yet disconcertingly poignant performance as the troubled young girl.

"We had seen a news story about girls imitating Japanese anime characters," explains Finlayson. "Their videos are all over YouTube. Such a peculiar and sad behavior, we wanted to explore the motivation behind it, as well as deal with domestic abuse. Evan used deep-focus to force mom into her environment, and a shallow-focus to pull the daughter out of it, as she didn’t belong there."

* "The Leapling" is Horror House's take on yet another genre staple -- holiday-based horror. What is left after Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, New Year's Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and April Fool's Day? There's Leap Year's Day! -- with a monster that hibernates for four years, emerging every February 29th to eat a small child.

The film has the usual sensitive, imaginative child who's easily frightened by an older sibling's scare story. Naturally, the story turns out to be true. "The Leapling" is enhanced by good makeup effects, and line drawings that dissolve into some live-action photography's beautiful, desaturated colors.

" 'The Leapling' was filmed hand-held to emphasize the story's urgency," says Finlayson. "I'm a leap year baby, otherwise known as a Leapling. I thought it would be fun to transform that notion into a monster who eats little boys on the leap day once every four years."



Finlayson and Marlowe (who are married) shot Horror House "almost entirely" in their own house. "We realized on Blood Rush that shooting out on location is a huge burden," said Finlayson." To keep things easy [on Horror House], we turned our house into a set. We used every square inch, including the garage, which I converted into the gypsy’s reading room and the Leapling’s cave. This allowed us to dress the sets in advance and avoid the hassles of location releases."

The filmmaking couple met Lloyd Kaufman at the 2011 Comic-Con, then coaxed him into appearing in Horror House the following year. "Turned out he’d be in town for Comic-Con the week we wanted to shoot [in 2012], so everything fell into place at the last minute. He is an incredibly gracious and hard-working man.

"We cast many of the others from experience. Several had worked with on Blood Rush (e.g., Kaden Graves, Helen Soraya, the Hunter sisters, John Wuchte). The others we cast from auditions through Actors Access.

Horror House was shot on a Canon T3i camera, and edited on Sony Vegas. "The film was privately financed by Evan and I," said Finlayson. "A heavy expense, especially as we also got married twice this year, once in England and once in America. We obviously shot at an indie level budget."

Horror House is currently making the film festival circuit while it seeks distribution. "We also entered 'Be Careful What You Wish For' as a short film into many festivals. It has been selected to play at the Trail Dance Film Festival in January 2013."

Next up is a sequel, Horror House 2 , which is already been partially written.

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