Directed by: David Holroyd
Run time: 75 minutes
The Lowdown: Haunted house movies are a staple of horror, and a critical genre that stretches back decades.
As fans, we love to sit in the dark of our own homes, our tiny microcosms of safety, and pull our feet up off the floor and allow our minds to run wild with what-ifs about the deep shadows all around.
The Haunted, the sophomore feature from writer-director David Holroyd, has a sturdy, if familiar, premise. Emily (Sophie Stevens), a new caregiver, arrives for her first overnight assignment watching over an elderly dementia patient. Her workspace is equipped with video monitors showing surveillance feeds throughout the sprawling home.
All the elements are in place for The Haunted, and Holroyd wastes little time letting viewers feel Emily’s anxiety ratchet as the awareness that she is completely alone in a huge house with an ill patient creeps deeper into her brain. It doesn’t help matters that her patient, though seemingly bed-bound, has a habit of slipping away from his sheets when she least suspects it.
Before long, Emily is fighting with a vengeful spirit and trying to decipher the mad mutterings of her patient who seems all too knowledgeable about who, or what, is assailing them.
If only the film was consistently good as its premise promises. But at a too-brief 75 minutes, Holroyd boxes himself in by not allowing enough time to give viewers more information about the angry spirit.
What does work, and well, are two masterfully staged sequences where Emily is searching through the deep, dark house with only a flashlight beam to illuminate her surroundings.
It’s there in those moments that Holroyd shows what he’s truly capable of because it’s then and there that viewers can fully embrace Emily’s terror and firmly transplant themselves into her shoes.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Not really that kind of flick.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Malevolent spirits.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
The Invisible Man (Universal, 124 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Speaking of haunted house movies, the first 15 minutes of Leigh Whannell’s excellent reintroduction of a classic Universal monster, The Invisible Man, is a master’s thesis in how to create nerve-shredding tension.
In those opening minutes, as Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), tries to sneak out of the secure fortress that her abusive husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has constructed on a waterfront cliff, viewers have no idea what to expect and Whannell toys with his audience like a master manipulator until finally delivering a well-earned jolt.
The Invisible Man, aside from being one of the last Hollywood films to strike it rich before Covid-19 shuttered movie theaters, is an infinitely rewatchable horror film that is packed with too many Holy Shit moments to properly congratulate for fear of giving away the best, most creative ideas that Whannell brings to the table.
Escape from L.A.: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 101 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): There are few great directors that you can point to who never experienced a lull or creative rut.
For me, I would think Quentin Tarantino is probably the only one I can immediately think of who has yet to fail to deliver with each new film he releases.
But when a beloved director hits a bad spell, especially when that period heralds the end of a magnificent career, where self-imposed or not, it’s hard not to go back and try to figure out what went wrong.
Many people might point to John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned as the moment when his acclaimed string of genius genre hits finally dried up, but for me, that moment is undoubtedly Carpenter’s decision to return to the well with Escape from L.A., an unnecessary sequel to his classic 1981 film Escape from New York.
Originally released in 1996, just one year removed from my favorite Carpenter film of all time, In the Mouth of Madness, Escape from L.A. arrived already feeling stale.
Even the indominable Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), one of the greatest cinematic anti-heroes ever created, seems bored, offering multiple quips about how redundant and repetitive his new mission feels.
And Escape from L.A. is wholly redundant. It plays out almost identically to its predecessor with barely any changes whatsoever, but the spark, that unexpected rush of surprise that made New York such a classic is completely missing.
And don’t even get me started on the special effects, which remain as woeful today as they were in 1996. And that is probably the most disappointing fact to admit because Carpenter was always a master craftsman when it came to special effects because they were so integral to the fantastic stories he was telling. The Thing remains one of the greatest horror remakes of all time because of Rob Bottin’s phenomenal practical effects.
There are some who feel completely differently about Escape from L.A. They embrace the film, flaws and all, which makes sense why Shout! Factory decided to put out a collector’s edition. But for many, like me, the movie remains a difficult watch because it lacks the joy and fun that defined Carpenter’s historic run from 1981 to 1988 when he put out some of the best genre films ever made.
The Deer Hunter: Collector’s Edition
Solid Metal Nightmares: The Films of Shinya Tsukamoto
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Girls Just Wanna Have Blood (Wild Eye Releasing, 104 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): I’ve almost given up hope that there will ever be a fresh slew of fun vampire horror-comedies like we saw in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.
Films like Love at First Bite, Once Bitten or Vamp that were smart enough not to dumb down their humor and brave enough to be bloody and gory when necessary.
Girls Just Wanna Have Blood, which is an infinitely dumber title than its original Teenage Bloodsuckin’ Bimbos, wants to be edgy, funny and scary.
Instead, it’s juvenile, bland and interminable.
Avoid at all costs.