Last week we looked at two haunted house films that were opening this month, and now another unintentional horror pairing is hoping to make its way into your brains via VOD and limited theatrical releases. Ghosts and such are fairly ubiquitous in the genre, but horror comedies are less common and far tougher to pull off successfully. The movies usually err too far on the comedic side and fail to manage much in the way of scares, but when one succeeds with just the right balance between the two halves you’re left bouncing between the highs of laughter and thrills.
Housebound is a fun little supernatural romp from New Zealand that sees a young woman sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home where her chatty mother and nearly silent step father. She settles in but soon discovers the home has more than a few secrets creeping around in the dark. Summer of Blood meanwhile looks and acts by all accounts like just another indie comedy about a self-involved guy struggling to find love in Brooklyn. The difference here is that this particular unlikable protagonist is bitten by a vampire and soon discovers a thirst for blood instead.
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) has made a series of poor decisions of late with the most recent one seeing her sentenced to several months of house arrest in the home where she grew up, and the prospect of living beneath the same roof as her mom is more terrifying than jail. The two clash almost immediately, but their battle of wills is interrupted by the realization that the house may be haunted by the restless spirit of a teenage girl who was murdered there before Kylie’s mom bought the place. With the help of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a security guard with a belief in the supernatural, she sets out to identify the murderer and set the trapped spirit free. It should surprise no one that this may not be a wise decision.
Writer/director Gerard Johnstone’s feature debut is a smart take on the haunted house that succeeds through a combination of visual creepiness, a constantly-building story and charismatic characters. What starts as nighttime spookiness grows into discoveries about the house and its past, and characters’ reactions manage to be both believable and fun. The cast are fully on board with the rising wackiness but never let it cheapen the conviction in their performances – they’re funny and expressive throughout, but when the situation calls for it they’re also terrified and deadly serious. The bit with the cheese grater isn’t fooling around either.
There are some missteps along the way involving some flab in the second act, some jokes that don’t land and an instance of one of the genre’s more annoying cliches (protagonist decides to fight back and stabs blindly as someone approaches, surprise it’s a friend/family/innocent person!), but the film works far more frequently than it stumbles. Quiet moments of unease early on slowly give way to some energetic sequences capable of thrilling and chilling in equal measure.
I’m not sure what New Zealand has been pumping into their water supplies, but this makes the second film from the country this year to deliver an immensely entertaining mix of horror and comedy. The other one, What We Do In the Shadows, puts a much heavier focus on the laughs than it does the thrills, but Housebound is still a frequently funny film that also happens to feature plenty of scares and overall creepiness. The pair will make for a damn fine double feature once they’re both available, but for now fans of high energy scares with personality should definitely give this one a spin.
Dark Sky Films
Summer of Blood
Erik (Onur Tukel, who also writes and directs) is enjoying a dinner out – well, enjoying isn’t the right word as the salad has bread beneath the greens and he was trying to eat healthy but whatever – but his girlfriend Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman) had an ulterior motive. She proposes to him, and he immediately and awkwardly shoots her down. It’s the last straw for Jody as she finally realizes how much of a selfish and commitment-phobe slacker he truly is. They split leaving Erik stumbling his way through online dating attempts, but when a late night stroll ends with him attacked by a vampire he awakes the next day with some strange cravings. Sure he needs blood and burns in the sunlight, but he also has the power to compel and becomes a fanged dynamo in bed. But yeah, he’s still an asshole.
While the film moves beyond its indie relationship comedy expectations by including genre elements, it’s still very much a small, low budget (the focus seems to be especially troublesome for the camera operator) talkie about an insufferable prick on a journey towards hopeful betterment. He’s rude, inconsiderate and irresponsible, and while those traits would normally need to be addressed even superficially in a genre-free film here they exist mostly for comedic purposes. Erik is a fun guy who you would never date or be actual friends with, but Tukel finds a small amount of pathos early on in a scene where Jody’s new beau verbally abuses Erik’s appearance and attitude. Sure he’s a slovenly, unkempt shlub of a man who deserves the treatment, but you almost feel bad for him. (Almost.) There’s room for growth and effort there, but Tukel isn’t interested in that path.
The character isn’t compelling on his own, and the story that Tukel plops himself into is ultimately a one note creation, but he has a natural way about his performance that leads to multiple jokes creeping up on you unexpectedly. It helps that he rarely stops talking, but laughs come at a steady enough pace to make him worth listening to. One moment he’s listing his fears (including Michael Douglas, “Have you seen him lately?”) and the next he’s discussing the weather with a fellow vampire as they take turns slurping some poor guy’s neck.
The disparate elements – indie comedy, man child protagonist, vampires – fail to gel completely, and the third act simply gives up on plot structure or character arcs in favor of dialogue and gags, but while all of that lessens the overall experience there are still enough laughs to be found here to justify a watch. (The 86 minute running time helps too.) Summer of Blood is a fast and frequently funny film for folks who have a stomach for dickish leads that refuse to grow up. The rest of you should go watch The Lost Boys instead.
Both Housebound and Summer of Blood hit VOD and limited theatrical release on Friday 10/17/14.
Related Topics: Horror