Haunt

 

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Gratifying eye candy for slasher horror fiends.

   

Haunt

Justin Marxen and Shazi Raja 

  

‘Haunted House’ attractions date back to the early 1900s. New York’s Coney Island advertised one in 1904 and in England, carnival creator Patrick Collins is credited with building the first known commercial haunt in Liphook: the ‘Haunted Cottage’. There's a long tradition of haunted houses in cinema as well, such as the French short House of Ghosts (1908), which used stop-motion techniques to spook audiences. Other notable films include 1932’s The Old Dark House with Boris Karloff, The Uninvited (1944), and William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959), which boasted Vincent Price and ‘Emergo’, a post 3-D craze concept that created a live gimmick in the theatre itself. In this case it was a fake skeleton flying over the audience during a key scare. Castle’s success prompted Alfred Hitchcock to create Psycho the following year, which is widely considered to be the first slasher. Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’s Haunt takes the traditional slasher and places it inside a haunted house attraction, transforming the pleasure of a ‘safe scare’ into something far more terrifying for a group of unsuspecting undergrads. 

 

Pumpkins smash on a door, so this is All Hallow’s Eve in Carbondale, Illinois – perhaps a neighbour to Michael Myers’ fictional Haddonfield. A shiner from her alcoholic boyfriend is enough to let us know that Harper (American Idol’s Katie Stevens) is our ‘Laurie’ and the underdog to root for. With a haunted house flyer in hand and positive Yelp review (all proceeds go to Red Cross), the group heads to the local haunt with Harper and Nathan (Will Brittain) as tentative tagalongs. After signing a waiver and handing over their cell phones (every uni student’s nightmare), a silent clown ushers them inside the shady establishment. But things are not as they appear behind the facade. The dime store masks and cheap scares cover something far sinister.

 

The film gloms heavily from the slasher genre, most notably The Funhouse and last year’s Hell Fest, as well as the Saw and Halloween franchises. Using all of the tricks and tropes, the film feels well cut and tailored for slasher fans. Curiously, producer Eli Roth once opened his own haunted house, Las Vegas’ short-lived 'Eli Roth’s Goretorium'. Written simultaneously with last year’s nail-biting A Quiet Place, screenwriting team Beck and Woods must have had a hell of a good time bouncing between the two. Haunt benefits from a strong knowledge of horror history, as well as a strong sound design. It maintains a nostalgic feel, while delivering some fresh inversions on classic tropes. Beck and Woods present a sustained dread that delivers. There’s an attempt to elevate the proceedings by contrasting the house’s horrors with those that lurk in traditionally safe places and relationships. It all feels a little heavy handed, but eventually helps establish a narrative about the masks we wear in life. 

 

The film oversteps at the end, but as with most survival horror, it’s not over until it’s over. Then of course there is the sequel.

CHAD KENNERK

Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Chaney Morrow, Justin Marxen, Damian Maffei.

Dir Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, Pro Todd Garner, Mark Fasano, Vishal Rungta, Ankur Rungta and Eli Roth, Screenplay Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, Ph Ryan Samul, Pro Des Austin Gorg, Ed Terel Gibson, Music tomandandy, Costumes Nancy Collini.

Sierra Affinity/Broken Road Productions/Nickel City Pictures-Momentum Pictures.
92 mins. USA. 2019. US Rel: 13 September 2019. Cert. 18.