Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DVD Review: House of Bad

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2013
Images from the Internet

House of Bad
Directed by Jim Towns                               
95 minutes, 2013
Shadow Kamera Films / The Adventures of Hannah

“[The] house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.”
- The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)
What, in part, makes an interesting film? One is when the story is one oft told, and a totally new twist is put to it. It worked for Evil Dead (1981) and Scream (1996), both of which were indie films, by the way.

Looking at this as a cross-genre release, let’s start with the crime drama plotline. Three sisters steal drugs from a gangster, and then go hide out, only to have the baddie track them down. How many times have you seen that storyline? Ah, but there is so much more. Add in a psychological touch of who do you trust, a creepy house with a possible bunch of ghosts, reminiscent of The Shining (1980) and the first season of American Horror Story (2011), and being stuck in an isolated cabin 20 miles from anywhere, like Cabin in the Woods (2011), Cabin Fever (2002) and the modern prototype, the aforementioned Evil Dead. Finally, there is the growing and gnawing paranoia of who do you trust, as the sanity gets peeled away (I could bring up The Thing [1982], but that may be pushing it a bit).

The claustrophobic plot involves three estranged sisters – two full, one half – who have stolen a large suitcase full of heroin from one of their lovers, and plan to hide out for a couple of weeks before selling the stash and high-tailing it to Mexico to start life afresh. They decide to ensconce in the isolated childhood home of the two older sisters, and good memories are not inscribed onto its walls.

Heather Tyler
The ringleader is older sister Teig (usually a boy’s name, it’s of Norwegian origin meaning “strip of land”), who masterminds the whole sting. She’s intelligent, but wired like she had a dozen cups of coffee just a few minutes before. Having been in and out of prison for much of her adult life, the money is her way to escape a system into which she feels locked. Heather Tyler plays her with just the right intensity. This is a role that in less capable hands could have been played too far over the top, but Tyler manages the scowl and ferocity in a way that’s wonderfully daunting. You can’t help but be scared of her, and yet at times her eyes are so soulful you can't help but pity the plight. As a child, she was harshly punished and abused by her father, including being locked in a dark basement, and yet she identifies with him, including dressing in the same type white muscle tee-shirt. Yet she resented her mother for possibly the same indiscretion her father had committed. My supposition is that she is suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

Sandie Katz
The middle sister is Sirah (where did they come up with these names?; this one is of Muslim origin, meaning “princess of the multitude”), who until talked into stealing the heroin by Teig, worked in a strip club. Yet, within her overconfidence, there is a kindness. Yeah, it’s a bit of a cliché, the stripper with the heart of gold, but in the dynamics of the trio, she is the one who tries to keep the balance. Sadie Katz (nice landsman name) has some endearing sharp features, switching back and forth between stone-cold and tender without feeling forced or phony.

Cheryl Sands
The youngest sister is Lily (let’s continue with the thread: named after the flower, it stands for purity). She shares the same father as her sisters, but a different mother. A stone junkie, she attempts to cold turkey during the two weeks, even with the suitcase full of heroin in the next room. She is probably the most sympathetic of the characters, which is probably why she connects so well to a fourth character that I’ll pass on describing as to not soil the plot. Lily is played by big-eyed Cheryl Sands, who has kind of an Amanda Seyfried / Eliza Dushku quality, though Sands is the better actor (don’t be givin’ me a hard time, all you Buffy / Dollhouse fanatics). She plays Lily kind of on an edge of insanity / saintliness.

Lisamarie Costabile
The three other main players are drug dealer Tommy (Clint Jung), whose end in the movie comes as no surprise; the two eldests' mother, Danielle (played by the very pregnant Lisamarie Costabile, who gave birth just days after the film wrapped), and the dad of all the sisters, Greif (played by the equally wonderfully monikered Jim Falkenstein). Jung, who has a long list of credits (as do most of the cast and crew), comes off as the stiffest, acting-wise. On the other hand, Costabile and Falkenstein play their roles with relish. Considering their lack of dialog, they express exactly what is needed at the moment through the hint of a smile, the position of their bodies, or the way their eyes go from slits to open wide.

There were a few points that raised my eyebrows in question, and I won’t give away too much, but here goes: in an early scene when the sisters first get to the homestead, Teig mentions that no one has lived there for 10 years, so there will be no mail, no bills, and no bothering them. And yet they have electricity and running warm water? Now, the nice thing about the hot water is they all have gratuitous nude bathing scenes, which I certainly won’t bicker about. Also, they are 20 miles from anything, yet they get cell phone reception. I have trouble with that in the ‘burbs. And after one of them gets shot in the side, how is it she can still run and physically fight? Even if all vital organs are missed, this has gotta hurt beyond the sprinting.

Now that I have that off my chest, I want to make sure it’s clear that this film goes far beyond its realistic limitations. Considering the $150,000 budget and eight-day shooting schedule, this could easily pass for one of the modest majors, or something that is level in quality of an HBO series. Jim Towns has done a splendid job considering the constraints, and some company would be crazy not to just give him what he needs to compete.

This film is set to be released on May 18, and I recommend that you check it out.

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