I want to stress something important: I thought I knew what I was getting into here.
I thought I knew how crazy and absurd this could be. I’d read the book. I mean it was in 2006 but I read it. I remember liking it. Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti are Christian novelists but they’re talented dudes. It was a Christian horror film. It had to be dull.
Let’s be clear: I went looking for a Christian exploitation film. Not a film that exploited religion like God’s Not Dead. A true, honest to god grindhouse movie for Christian audiences. Now that I’ve seen one, I’m genuinely disturbed at the experience. Because House is not something I was ready for.
Let me just get this out of the way: But for one element, I could have recommended this film. Seriously. Not as a good film but in that weird gap that b-movies fall in. Where you have to drive by and gawk. Where you’re grateful if you’re not bored. Because not for one second is this movie boring.
But goddamn is it gross.
Here’s the plot. A Husband and Wife are driving to a marriage counselor. They nearly get into a wreck. They walk to a strange inn to try to make a call. There they meet Boyfriend and Girlfriend who are also stuck. Then they meet the proprietors Creepy Old Woman and Pervert Son. There’s Other Son but he’s unimportant. Things are weird. Then a Serial Killer traps them and it becomes clear the house is a demonic place where the characters must confront their sins to escape. Cue a lot of weird, horrifying shit.
OK, that’s the plot. It’s unimportant. Look, if you don’t figure out the characters are dead and in a weird limbo realm immediately, then horror is new to you. This is a familiar story. You know too it’s going to be a Christian allegory in some way so the Creepy Innocent must die for the Evil Killer to be defeated.
What I want to discuss are the other things.
First off, can I credit the film with looking and feeling at least plausibly like the exploitation film it is? After a weirdly overlit first 10 minutes, the film nails at the very least the modern b-movie feeling. It looks like the sickly yellow hues I’ve come to expect from modern grindhouse. It’s digitally shot and cheaply but that’s the genre.
The film benefits greatly from some incredible sets. Yeah they’re cheap but the titular location oozes atmosphere. There’s a dirtiness to what I’m seeing at least compared to the normal overly scrubbed Christian film. It’s also still a bit bright but again, everything is interesting to look at.
And it’s kind of fun watching a grindhouse film without language or gore. Not that it’s a good idea. It’s a horrible idea and you notice their absence. But it’s the technical challenge. Like watching Buried or Locke. An experiment. Can you get to that sleazy drive-in/downtown feeling without the usual tools? And by and large the film does.
That’s because the film apes Rob Zombie so damned hard. Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, and Lew Temple play the proprietors of the title and all three were plucked from The Devil’s Rejects. They give the film authenticity and give the film a blast of quality, even if Moseley literally blips in and out in under 10 minutes and like a true exploitation film is only there for the poster. Michael Madsen somehow hasn’t worked with Zombie but he tears it up with glee. Oh and IMDB/Wikipedia credit Lance Henriksen as a voice in this. It sounds like him but he’s not in the credits. I don’t doubt it’s him.
The other actors are well there. I’m not listing them out of a desire to be nice. Of the four leads, only one has worked regularly since. These are not people who need unfair attacks. I’m only going to say they try and that’s likely true to the b-goal. (OK, the one who works regularly, Julie Ann Emery as Girlfriend is pretty good, better in fact than the other three. I’m not shocked her IMDB photo is from SDCC 2019 and she’s got credits such as Preacher and Better Call Saul.)
I’ll also get one last nice thing out. The film moves fast. It’s a tight 88 minutes. That’s good for a little grungy film. It does what you want and leaves. It’s paced just right.
All of that? It made it very entertaining. But I’m not recommending this film. In fact I’m angry at it. I’m angry at the culture. I’m angry at how unchallenged a lot of this is. Because let me get this out: This film’s morality is, to be blunt, fucked.
Look, Christian themed art is always moral. And that can create pure greatness. Let’s talk the finest example: Crime and Punishment. I might consider this the greatest novel ever written. And it is definitely about rejecting “intellectualism” even if it’s not exactly Christian as we call it. The book is entirely about how morality still exists and we are still subject to it no matter how much we try to out-think it. You can make art from a boldly moral stance.
This? It’s shit.
In this, Husband and Wife are treated as having allowed their daughter’s accident because they were negligent and career focused. Yes, you should never be negligent as I well know as a parent. Focusing on your career can be damaging. But it’s also the state of things in our society. Look I’m not going to extend much sympathy to a best selling writer and a bar singer but dammit they were trying to work. And more to the point accidents happen. Even horrible fatal ones.
Boyfriend is being tormented with killing his father during a hunting accident and in a better film, this would be a shining example of good writing. The son accidentally shoots his toxic father who bullied him into shooting a deer. He comes away from it an aggressive alpha male. This is toxic masculinity and the film has a chance to confront it. Instead, he’s made into a psychotic villain ready to kill at a moment’s notice. Why?
But sadly I need to address how the film handles Girlfriend. Girlfriend was molested by her uncle who she killed ultimately. She is a victim, pure and simple. The sequence where she is dressed as a little girl with Raggedy Ann makeup is horrifying with Temple’s character standing in for her uncle. This alone probably got the film the R. Again, were this a good movie that understood this and righteously got outraged at how this happens, this would play as an indictment of the babywoman trope and be angrier at child molestation, which is kind of a layup in moralizing!
No. She is sexualized from the moment she arrives in the film, constantly wearing low cut tops and bouncing around. There are multiple moments where she’s treated as a temptress with even the word temptation popping up around the character. At no point after she reveals she killed her attacker does the film even once say the simple idea that she acted in self defense! Which to be blunt, I would have no problem with! Instead, she’s right there at the end with boyfriend screaming for blood of the innocent.
And let me note that I’m not saying you can’t deal with this material in a film. M. Night Shyamalan was, well, problematic in doing so in Split. But you know what? He cared about Casey in that. He made it clear he was angry at what was done to children. He celebrated her strength. Most importantly, he made goddamn certain we knew she was free and safe in Glass, making that the very first detail we learn about her there.
The film does have one bit of moralizing though! It’s revealed they were alive as they burned to death in the “real world.” Two hopelessly broken abuse victims and they were punished with the most graphic death I can picture. Meanwhile, even if I think Husband and Wife weren’t THAT bad, they still actually had a sin that they were clearly haunted by.
But I’m not done. See this film has a Creepy Girl who is essentially the Christ figure of the film and she dies for the “sins” of the other characters, giving Husband and Wife the “light” to kill the Killer. You know what? You’re not allowed this allegory, movie. CS Lewis? He earned it. You? You SLUT SHAMED A GODDAMN ABUSE VICTIM! You don’t get to say the innocent died for the guilty when moments before you have two abuse victims essentially kill each other. Bite me.
This movie is so close to being the b-movie I wanted it to be but it’s fitting it’s fixated on sin because that’s what kills it. House has a deeply demented worldview. And you know what? That’s inherent in the worldview of this realm of society. It views the flashy evil as the true evil. It ignores the actual rot.
I don’t think the film is pro-molestation. There’s no way you can read that. Just as I don’t think Evangelicals are. But purity balls, promise rings? That fear of women is real. The need to keep them under lock and key and utter terror at female sexuality is completely real and runs through this film.
This movie has a morality that isn’t black and white. It’s orange and purple. It makes no sense in reality. You can’t judge people for their actions which are comprehensible in the actual world then erase everything with an idea that not everyone exactly considers real. “But Jesus” doesn’t cut it.
And ultimately that brings me to a conclusion I’ve debated for many years. Can art by Evangelicals work for non-evangelicals? This tries so hard. But I’m giving a definitive no here. Either it’s too diluted to matter or it’s got that sick, broken moral compass that offends non-Evangelicals.
This makes me retroactively realize I was too nice to the works I’ve read from that world. I was closer to it if never actually there–you will never win me over bashing gays–and I was simply unaware of the flaws because they were normal. In all honesty, the book was just as demented. And it’s best I not reread the writers’ work.
House came the closest to working as the real thing it tried to be. But it’s not a fun b-movie. It’s judgmental bullshit in a fun package. Several people have thought I was discussing the Japanese film Hausu or the great 80’s b-movie of the same name. Watch those instead. Run like hell from this.