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Wednesday, December 7, 2016
"Six people going crazy in a house" is how writer-director Vito Trabucco (SLICES, BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP) describes his horror film NEVER OPEN THE DOOR (2014), and that's a pretty apt summation of what you're in for when you watch it.
What you're also in for, if you appreciate good old-fashioned black-and-white photography, is one of the best-looking monochrome films I've seen in recent years. From the first noirish frame this looks like a throwback to the 60s, especially those creepy black-and-white chillers like Roger Corman's DEMENTIA 13 and William Castle's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, or TV shows like "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits."
Trabucco cites the work of producer and co-writer Christopher Maltauro's grandfather John Brahm, who directed episodes of the aforementioned series as well as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", as a major inspiration. The film, in fact, is dedicated to him.
What this means is that NEVER OPEN THE DOOR is a visual treat, with cinematographer Joe Provenzano's finely-wrought imagery within the film's limited confines--it almost all takes place within a single two-storey vacation home in Big Bear--often no less than gorgeous. The fact that Trabucco is a director of noteworthy talent only adds to the pleasure of watching the film unfold.
Working against it, unfortunately, is a script that encourages a great deal of improvisation from a cast not too adept at it. (Trabucco himself admits to the overly lean nature of the script in his interview segment.) The six main actors, playing old friends gathered together in the secluded house for a festive holiday weekend, give adequate individual performances (for the most part, anyway) but their ensemble acting is downright awful.
It all begins when their festive meal (replete with such bad dialogue that I suspected my leg was being pulled) is interrupted by a violent knock at the door. Disregarding the film's title, Tess (Jessica Sonneborn, THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET) admits a wounded man who spews her with blood and then dies right there on the floor.
While she's taking a quick scrub upstairs, the rest of the group debate over what to do, with the added inconvenience that their cell phones not only don't work properly but are beginning to send them cryptic, inflammatory text messages (such as "Isaac is having an affair with your wife").
Things start to get ever weirder when Tess disappears and a series of animalistic growls begin to emanate from upstairs. When yet another Tess shows up and claims to have just arrived, everyone's pretty convinced that there's definitely something odd going on. In no time they're all going out of their minds, attacking one another, and generally behaving in a dangerously irrational manner as more unexplainable things continue to occur.
With the increasingly frantic atmosphere amongst the main characters, we're in for more and more of that cringeworthy ensemble acting and bad improv, so much so that it eventually elicits its own sort of fascination.
Luckily, the violent and often shocking behavior these erstwhile friends and lovers display toward one another once the true madness starts to set in keeps us pretty much on edge the whole time, while Trabucco, with the help of some very creative editing and an enjoyably overheated musical score, manages to maintain a genuine sense of urgency until the fairly neat surprise at the end.
Even with its flaws, or perhaps partly because of them, the story takes on a sort of oppressively nightmarish quality that eschews any kind of logic. We get no explanation for what's going on, such as why Tess (the original version, that is) reappears as some kind of hideous monster lurking about in the darkness or a line of mysterious men in suits appear outside, watching the house.
This is where the film differs from its inspirations, since shows like "The Twilight Zone" generally offered some kind of rationale for their irrational events. Here, we're plunged into a free-for-all of weirdness that's unfettered by any adherence to inner logic save that of the darkest nightmare.
The Blu-ray from Maltauro Entertainment in association with Baumant Entertainment is widescreen with subtitles in English. In addition to a trailer and photo gallery, there are interviews with Jessica Sonneborn (Tess), director Vito Trabucco, and producer Christopher Maltauro, and a tribute to special makeup artist Maggie Dillon, who passed away shortly after the film was completed.
With a brisk running time of barely over an hour, NEVER OPEN THE DOOR starts off running and sweeps us along with it from start to finish. And while the acting and dialogue often veer perilously into trainwreck territory, the look of this low-budget indy horror flick is exquisite--a bonafide black-and-white joy to behold.
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