Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: House of Forbidden Secrets

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

House of Forbidden Secrets
Written, filmed, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / BD Productions / Full Moon Productions /Unearthed Films / MVD Entertainment
93 minutes, 2014

Although this film was released less than three years before the last one I saw by the director, Dreaming Purple Neon (reviewed HERE), I watched this one shortly after it, and it was interesting to see the differences, and especially the similarities.

Even at this point, Sheets is not new to the director’s table, and that experience and know-how shows, even with a micro-budget. Yeah, this is VHS-1980s-type fare, but it is also no surprise that this has been accepted and shown at dozens of festivals in its nearly four years of existence.

Antwoine Steele
The story starts with it being Jacob Hunt’s (Sheets go-to guy, Antwoine Steele) first day on the job at an office building as a night security guard. Meanwhile, in one of the rooms, a medium named Cassie Traxler (Nicole Santorella) is holding a benign séance to bring back the spirit of a customer’s husband. Instead, she manages to unleash the evil spirit of a demonic priest (the excellent Lew Temple, who has been in a slew of stuff, including The Devil’s Rejects, 31, and a run on The Walking Dead) and the restless souls of those he has killed.

By Cassie’s action, the building’s basement has now turned into the stomping ground of the murdered and angry spirits of a 1930s brothel which we see in flashbacks, that was run by a couple played by the one and only Dyanne Thorne (here not-ironically named after one of her most famous characters in 1977’s Greta, the Mad Butcher, and her husband, Klaus (Howard Maurer, Thorne’s real-life husband). This is Thorne’s first role in nearly a quarter century, and it’s great to see her in all her eye-raising, inconsistent accent acting. This may sound like I’m being negative, but she is amazing and an important touchstone in modern horror history. Plus, she’s still lovely at 70 years old; the Las Vegas air has done her well. As a side note, when I met her in the early ‘90s at a Chiller Theatre in New Jersey, she was very open and sweet.

So our two main characters and a bunch of others (i.e., the fodder), such as the building maintenance guy, a film crew, and Cassie’s assistant, go a-roaming through the endless basement, picked off one by one in a number of gruesome manners, including crucifixion.

Actually, there is a lot of religious overtones throughout the film, including a lustful and murderous priest, and the psychic can be seen as sort of the flip slide of the Christian dogma, but still being a kind-hearted person, i.e., it can be interpreted as someone Christian may be “evil, and another who is pagan can be “good.” Personally, I believe this is a positive thing, because in my book, dogma (formalized religion), especially in today’s Trump-ified United States, shows that belief does not necessarily = peace and love. While I don’t know what the director had in mind, that’s what I read into it.

This certainly is a nicely wet picture, with a few wonderful moments of explicit gore, including a face dismantling, and much of it appears to be appliances. In one of the differences between this and the later film, there is less of a latex look here to the visceral shenanigans and, well, is that the same large intensive? I ask that as a hypothetical question. There is some female nudity, usually with blood splashed on the breasts, but no male, though there are all gendered bits in the later film.

As for similarities between the two pictures, well there definitely are some story motifs that overlap. I’m not implying that one is a remake, or that there is a rip-off, just some interesting turns in an auteur kind of way. For example, both buildings (shot in the same complex, by the way) have unending basements that hold terrors of malevolent and demonous denizens, with a group of fodderites trying to find a way out. And this may be a bemused stretch, but they also both have a strong character whose last name is Cane/Kane.

Nicole Santorella
The acting here is pretty decent, with the zaftig Santorella leading the way. Okay, occasionally there’s the over emphasis here and there, but the cast fares really well. It’s amazing the difference in characters played by Steele here and in Dreaming Purple Neon. The hammiest role award, however, definitely has to go to Lloyd Kaufman in one of his typical vested (does he own any other clothes?) rants, even though this one is “drunken.” Lloyd is always a hoot as the buffoon and humor content, and I hope he keeps on doing it, and there are a couple of nice quick nods to The Toxic Avenger included. I’m just shocked that if Lloyd is here, where is Debbie Rochon? But I digress…

There is an abundance of cameos here that is quite impressive, such as the aforementioned Thorne and Temple, and then there’s the likes of Ari Lehman (the first Jason Voorhees, as a kid), George Hardy from Trolls 2 (1990), and Allan Kayser (from 1986’s Night of the Creeps and TV’s “Mama’s Family”).

The lighting is just right, which is no small thing, as I’ve seen too many films that take place in suspicious and dangerous places where it’s so dark, you lose the action: “Wait, I know there’s something happening, but what the heck, it’s hard to see!” Here it’s pretty clear from beginning to end. The basement set design is also quite well done.

But the most important thing these two have in common, however, is that they are both incredibly watchable and damn good fun.

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