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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 14, 2020]





[]  Horror playwright Jack Travis (William Holstead) needs fresh inspiration for his next project. So he buys a Scottish castle, one with a dark history.

Several generations ago, the laird of the castle had an illegitimate son by his servant girl. (A laird is a Scottish minor nobleman.) When his son grew up and learned of his parentage, he publicly mocked his father. So dad (borrowing from Edgar Allan Poe) walled up his son in the castle basement.

Legend has it the dying son made a pact with Satan. His soul for revenge. Soon afterward, the servant girl tumbled down some stairs and broke her neck. The laird jumped (or was pushed?) from a high window and splattered upon the ground.

Now the son's demonic ghost haunts the castle.

Jack is writing a play based on this legend. He intends to have it performed at the castle -- hence the film's title, Playhouse. The haunted castle will be where its story is told. Jack's agent says no one will drive that far for a play, it, but Jack will not be deterred.

Actually, I wouldn't call it a castle. It looks to have been built only a few centuries ago, say between 1500 and 1800. Yeah, there's a thick stone wall with an archway. But I regard castles as medieval or ancient edifices.

Jack is divorced and has custody of his sullen teen daughter, Bee (Grace Courtney). Nearby lives an annoying young couple, Jenny and Callum (Helen Mackay and James Rotter). Jenny is descended from the laird, and intends to stop Jack from publicizing her family's sordid past.

Along the way, Jack and Bee are possessed and compelled to reenact the laird's tragedy. Jack walls up Bee in the castle basement. One expects Jack to then jump from a window, but the nosy couple next door keeps hindering him. Jenny demands he stop writing his play. Callum pesters Jack for playwriting advice. Callum has never written a play, but he figures that Jack can open some doors for him, so he might as well try his hand at it.



Eventually, Jenny and Callum notice that Bee is missing and that Jack is going bonkers. He's seeing things, including his ex-wife, now alive, now dead. "Where's Bee?" they scream hysterically. "Jack, where's Bee?"

"I don't know!" Jack blubbers.

Will they find Bee in time -- before she runs out of air?!

Playhouse enjoys strong production values. A skilled cast, atmospheric cinematography and art direction, and fine visual effects. Its weakness is its story and characters.

Playhouse is aggressively unoriginal. You have a horror author protagonist (e.g., The Shining, In the Mouth of Madness, Misery, The Dark). People moving into a new house where ghosts possess one or more person, seeking to reenact past tragedies (e.g. The Shining, The House Where Evil Dwells, The Amityville Horror). Bee even hangs out with some bad girls from school (with the usual colored, punked out hair) smoking pot, who tell Bee about the legend and dare her to place her hands on the wall where the son was entombed.


Although Playhouse is a nicely shot ghost film, I was bored. Plot points and tropes were too familiar. This might not have been a problem (there are few strikingly original horror films), were it not for the unlikeable characters. The cast's emotions were often over-the-top, their anger, mania, or hysteria rising too quickly and too extremely.

Perhaps they received poor direction? Directorial credit goes to "The Watts Brothers." (And how many brother teams working in horror does that now make?)

Ironically, of the four main characters, and despite her sullen attitude, Bee was the most grounded, sensible, low key, and likeable. Courtney's Bee evokes Winona Ryder's Lydia in Beetlejuice, both in attitude and hairstyle.

Playhouse has nice visuals but lacks a compelling story. Horror newbies might enjoy Playhouse, but longtime fans might feel a sense of deja vu.


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