Film Review: House of Ghosts by Duane L. Martin
Originally posted at http://www.roguecinema.com/article3255.html
An eccentric couple, Leigh (Sid Korpi) and Isaac (Mark Scanlan), give a dinner party for some friends, and they've hired some entertainment for the evening as well, but when a severe snow storm sets in and traps them all in the house overnight, it's uncertain as to whether or not whether their entertainment will show up at all. Fortunately for the rest of the film, he does.
The entertainment for the evening is a medium (J. Andrew Wilkins), who brings along a device that's supposed to open a portal between our world and the land of the dead. The guests all gather around as the machine lights up and its parts spin around inside, but when it's all over...nothing happened. The medium tells them that he's opened the door to the other side, now it's up to them to walk through it. Everyone is underwhelmed to say the least, and Isaac gets his money back after threatening him with legal action for fraud, but once the medium's gone, things start getting a little creepy. Suddenly, Isaac has a horrible headache and needs to go lay down. Then the other guests start having creepy, ghostly encounters, and people start turning up dead. Will anyone survive this ghostly evening? You'll have to watch the film to find out.
I had to really limit myself in the description of the film so as to not give away any of the good stuff, but that's essentially what the film is about. So how was it? Well...
For those of you who aren't familiar with the films of Christopher R. Mihm, he makes retro style, black and white b-movies. "House of Ghosts" is his latest film, and it's a new genre for him. His previous films have revolved around mutants or outer space themes, and this one takes us into the William Castle style of ghost film.
Following in that style, Christopher himself introduces the film, much like William Castle would, and talks about a fear shield that's given to people in the theater. William Castle was a master of theater gimmicks, and this totally pays homage to the days of the theater gimmick, which is awesome.
Now we get to the film, and immediately you'll notice several things. First, he knows how to make his films look like classic films. Everything from the set design and props to the costumes all give his films a very classic look, and this one looks absolutely wonderful. Something else you'll notice is the great selection of music that he uses in his films. He uses various selections of music from the period, so it not only adds to the whole vibe of the film, it also makes it a more fun and enjoyable experience.
Something else that's a lot of fun in this film are the references to various things in his previous films. They're done in a way where it doesn't really matter if you get the references or not, but it's more fun if you do.
The real fun in this film though comes from the encounters with the ghosts. There's a skeleton in a dress and a wig (one of the guest's dead mother). Another guest sees her dead son's ghost, only...he's changed into something she doesn't recognize. Yet another guest is attacked by spiders (really fun and goofy looking fake spiders). Then there's the Angel of Death. This is far and away the most creepy and impressive looking thing I've seen in any of Mihm's films, and it's used in such a way as to maximize the creep factor.
This film, like other of Christopher's films, include both an English and an Esperanto dialogue track, as well as subtitles in both languages. I have no idea who speaks Esperanto, but hey, if there's someone out there who does...there ya go. In any case, I've never made it any secret that I think that every movie should include optional subtitles, and all of Christopher's films do, which is awesome. What makes it even more awesome, is that they're more than just your normal run of the mill subtitles. He really has fun with them, including adding in little descptive things like "Star Trek close-up" and various sound effect noises and reaction descriptions that are both funny and entertaining. If you watch the film without subtitles, you're really missing a fun aspect of the experience.
From a production standpoint, Mihm's films started out great and just keep getting better and better. There are people out there who make retro films, but they're usually just a one off. For Christopher Mihm, that's his thing. It's all he does, and when you watch one of his films, you can really see the love and appreciation he has for those great old classics from the 50's, and he has a whole lot of fun with the genre in his own films. This particular film is perfectly paced, filled with great camera shots, makes use of some cool editing and effects, and is lit perfectly. I mention the lighting, because in a film of this nature, especially in black and white, it's easy to end up with scenes that are too dark. The whole film is lit exactly as it needs to be, and makes really great use of shadow in a very expert way in various scenes.
The DVD of this film includes several special features, including a blooper reel, the trailer, "The Real House of Ghosts" featurette, an alternate ending, which will be particuarly funny if you've seen his previous films and get the reference, a photo gallery, previews, and a film introduction by horror host, Dr. Ivan Cryptosis. It also includes a behind the scenes commentary with Christopher Mihm, Mitch Gonzales and Cherie "Rhuby" Gallanti, and a separate director's commentary with Christopher Mihm.
I've come to expect great films from Christopher R. Mihm, and I absolutely loved this one. I highly recommend picking yourself up a copy, and while you're at it, get yourself copies of his previous films as well. Classic b-movie fans will probably get the most enjoyment from them, but they can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to just kick back, relax and have a great time with a film.
If you'd like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page here, and while you're there, check out his other films as well. You won't be sorry.