St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Dark House (2009)

Dark House title card.

Parker and I have had the pleasant surprise lately of watching movies that smack of competence and high production values. Which of course makes us traitors to our cause and always leaves me feeling slightly soiled and misused. We had a lot of fun with Disney’s new Cruella (2021) last week, but as with most too-glossy films it doesn’t follow you out of the cinema. It was fun, but forgettable; competent, but boring; slick, but shallow. So when I told Parker, “Can we please just watch something shit this week?” he said, “Have I got a movie for you.”

Dolls splattered with blood.

Dark House (2009) opens “14 years ago” with a montage of dolls and children singing, only then the children start screaming and a stagehand starts flinging blood at the dolls until they’re crying blood in the very best film-school tradition. THAT’S HOW YOU CREATE DRAMA, KIDS.

For some reason they’re all creepy Victorian-style dolls instead of, if this really had been 1995, Beanie Babies. I can’t tell if drizzling fake blood all over Iggy the Iguana and Gobbles the Turkey would have been more or less scary than the Victorian dolls. All I know is that leaving them out is not consistent with this film’s unswerving dedication to realism. Yanked me right out of the movie. Suspension of disbelief shattered. Beanie Babies unwholesomely clean and blood-free. Have you seen that photo of the couple in divorce court in 1999 divvying up their Beanie Baby collection in front of the judge?

A couple divides their Beanie Baby collection.

Isn’t it amazing? Look closely. Blood spatters on the Beanie Babies. You can practically feel the murder of small children. You can’t tell me that couple didn’t spend way too long in Dark House playing with toys and burying an axe into the neighbour’s brats. Is he wearing a polo shirt? Who wears a polo shirt to divorce court? Probably why his wife divorced him in the first place. Anyhow, back to the film…

The dark house looking surprisingly un-dark.

Three girls cycle up to the Dark House which looks surprisingly un-dark. Almost light. In fact this might be the most pleasant and innocuous house I’ve ever seen. With that turret and everything it looks like the castle of a Disney princess. Buuut you work with the locations you have.

A woman with blood on her face.

Heyyo, they’re back into the vat of fake blood. One of the small girls walks into the house to find a bunch of murdered kids and this woman, Mrs. Darrode, standing with her hand in the Insinkerator. The director must have missed a trick if he didn’t get a bunch of product placement money from the Insinkerator people. You can’t buy this kind of publicity.

A young woman in acting class.

Cut to the present day and we have our protagonist, Claire, sitting in acting class. Girl, the movie’s already started, it’s too late to learn how to act now. She and the rest of her deeply unpleasant friends take a gig at the latest tourist attraction in town, an immersive house of horrors called Dark House. You can see where this is going.

A fiend with long fingernails.

The house is populated by computer-generated holograms which look entirely lifelike. We’re told there’s a mainframe that “processes two hundred teraflops a second to produce such dynamic 3D algorithms.” Course it does, ducky. Unfortunately it came with a version of Norton Antivirus that tragically neglected to include the ghosts, ghouls, and gremlins patch because it only takes the spirit of Mrs. Darrode about three seconds to possess the damn thing and start making the holograms real. Always keep your antivirus software up to date.

In pretty short order the holograms start skewering the unloveable cast, who go down almost without a fight. The first one was actually pretty good, this fingernail demon, even though you could probably just drop a quarter on the ground and run away while she’s struggling to pick it up. After that they get a bit pedestrian — a knight and a killer clown, etc. One woman actually dies just from falling down stairs. No kidding.

Mrs. Darrode returns to the fleeeeesh.
“The deaths of those sinners brought me back to the fleeeeeeesh!”

The death of all the people helps bring Mrs. Darrode back to life. This actress does an absolutely magnificent job. She’s overacting like all get-out, but frankly this isn’t the kind of movie that calls for a subtle, understated performance. This is where an actor really gets to cut loose and have some fun with the role, and Mrs. Darrode goes to town. She makes this movie as great as it is and it’s worth seeing for her performance alone.

The Skinny

Mrs. Darrode's creepy smile.

“The girl’s traumatised. She develops more bugs than Windows Vista.”

See? Another missed opportunity for product placement!

This movie is special. It actually looks pretty good and the actors do a decent job, but it’s just so silly and it doesn’t make a lick of sense. We laughed all the way through. This one’s a joy and a little-known gem that I’d gladly watch again.