Director: Gus Trikonis
Starring: Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, and Andrew Prine
Running Time: 89 min
I love haunted house movies and what I love more than that is films I've never heard of and this film fits both description. It does, however, have Richard Crenna, who you may remember played Col. Trautman in the Rambo series and Andrew Prine, who was recently in Rob Zombie's "Lords of Salem" and the deputy in the original "The Town That Dreaded Sundown". So, it has some good low key names and how can you say no to that poster art?
Sam, the local drunk and part time caretaker is reluctantly going into the old Vargas mansion to clean it up for some perspective buyers. He's reluctant because the whole town knows about all the spook stories that are associated with the place, but he's got to job to do and liquor ain't free, so he better get to work. As he starts getting the place cleaned up, he hears the voices of children from the dark abandoned basement. Sooooo, he follows the sounds downstairs and into the furnace room. Sam opens the furnace to see if anyone is locked in or hiding inside and to his relief there isn't. Then it gets hit with a intense blast of fire in the face! As he twirls violently around in pain, the fire engulfs his body and he is burnt alive. Crispy, extra crispy.
A few hours later, C.J. and his wife Dr. Caroline Arnold meet with the realtor to look at the Vargas mansion, it see if it's a good place to set up their addiction counseling retreat. The realtor is upset that Sam isn't there to meet them, but he's dead, so they let themselves in. C.J. is really impressed at how big the place is and how low the cost is. The realtor slyly gives a quick background on the house, you know Emilio Vargas, rich weirdo built the place and killed himself, many owners left after that. Most moved in, very seen again, you know how it is, no one has lived here for decades, they're all always ghost stories about places like this. As the realtor continues to rattle off red flags, Caroline wanders off and thinks she sees a ghostly image on the stairs and hurries downstairs to tell C.J. buuuuuut thinks twice, because that sounds crazy. Ghosts, there is no such thing. C.J. loves the place and the price and so they take the place.
That weekend, C.J. and Caroline invite a bunch of friends to come help clean and renovate the old Vargas place with them. At first it's a lot of fun, you know cleaning decades of dirt in a dim spooky house when all of sudden strange things start happening. Like Mary's dog, starts to become unfriendly and Caroline is seeing the ghostly forms again. Eventually, she finds the diary of Emilio Vargas, which is empty, with the exception of one page with a cryptic message. However, C.J. thinks she's just acting crazy and heads down to the basement to do some cleaning or something. Anyway while he's down there, he finds a door in the floor that is sealed with a cross. Being a curious panda, C.J. removes the cross and opens the door, which causes the house to shake and it throws everybody askew. C.J. runs upstairs to see if everybody is alright and discovers his electrician has had a terrible accident and is dead. Also, they are all trapped inside the ghost house and it won't let them out, ever. Slowly, very slowly C.J.'s friends start getting attack & killed by mysterious things and C.J. and Caroline are at odds at why this is happening. Is it supernatural or just really really really bad luck? Can C.J. and the rest of his friends escape this twisted mixed up mansion or will they become part of the legend that is the Vargas Mansion?
This wasn't bad but it wasn't great. At first, it had that "Legend of Hell House", "The Haunting" type of feel to it, which was pretty cool. Writer/Director Gus Trikonis (Supercock, The Swinging Barmaids) sets the story up with a very intriguing back story or at least he tries to. Young wealthy industrialist, Emilio Varga, with a bizarre penchant for the occult dies mysteriously and the house becomes unlivable due to spook stories. That's pretty cool in a Poe/Lovecraft kind of way. Then some interlopers come in to renovate the property and it makes sense what happens next. The story is good but I'm just not that crazy about how it was executed, which I'll get to later.
Also, I thought the make-up for the deaths were really good. A couple of characters were completely engulfed in flames in this film, so my hats off to stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker (From Dusk Till Dawn, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park) cuz it looked awesome. Best parts of the movies. As well as the make-up work after for the victims were burned, mutilated, and gnawed were excellent too.
Finally, you do get to see the ghost of Emilio Varga in this and it is a rather well done ghost effect during the close ups. It still looks good when it shot from a distance but maybe it was the effect they were going for but sometimes it doesn't look right. It the ghost looks a little squished or stretched at times. Still it was done decently.
What I wasn't crazy about was the film loses it's big screen appeal to me and turns into a what seems like a made for TV movie about half way through. I don't know how to explain it but it felt like I was watching an old MOW and by the third act, I felt like changing the channel. Interesting side, director Gus Trikonis did stop making theatrical films after this one and focused on TV movies, which I think was a excellent choice, considering what happened here.
Also, these characters don't seem that freaked out about the ghostly things going on in the house. They are incredible calm and extremely rational for the most part, which is weird and humorous at times. One guy sees his girlfriend get pulled into a dark stairwell, so he just runs away and doesn't tell anybody. Then in the next scene, he just moves on to the next task, like nothing happened. It's just unrealistic behavior that could have been improved by a few lines of dialogue here and there.
The ending to this movie is weird. I'm still up in the air about whether its good weird or bad weird but it takes a very sharp turn that some people may not be crazy about. There seems to be a point that nobody touched on or were trying to push until the very end. The epilogue is kind of cheap as well and it seems tacked on.
Again, this isn't the worst film that I've seen but it isn't the best either and I can understand why I hadn't heard of it until now. It starts off well with a spooky feel but turns into a run of the mill TV movie. The characters seem to lack the ability to reach the level of fear to which these circumstances would dictate but you do get to watch most of them die in somewhat interesting ways. So, there's that. So, if you are looking for a B-movie that will haunt your conscience, then throw this into your machine and let the mild terror engulf you.