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Friday, May 9, 2014

HOUSE OF DUST -- DVD review by porfle

When a modern horror flick tries to come on like an old-fashioned ghost story instead of just dishing out the same old bloody kill-a-thon, you have to give it some credit for the ol' college try regardless of the results. 

With HOUSE OF DUST (2013), those results are mixed but not altogether badly so.  In a horrific opening flashback worthy of Dr. Herbert West, mental asylum inmates are being creatively lobotomized by demented doctors and their bodies later cremated (some while not quite dead).  Naturally, their ashes end up getting inhaled many years later by college students exploring the abandoned asylum, who will later become possessed by the restless and sometimes angry spirits of the unfortunate inmates.

While this is going on down in the basement crematorium,  Emma (Inbar Lavi     of MTV's "Underemployed"),  a painfully shy new student with a past wracked by severe emotional problems, is wandering around elsewhere within the asylum where she's being stalked by the worst of the ghostly inmates, a cackling, kill-crazy psycho named Levius (John Lee Ames).   After getting chased out of the place by a portly campus cop, the hapless students then wreak havoc in their coed dorm building when the spirits possessing them start to act out in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Leading up to this, we get plenty of painfully dull and vacuous dialogue coming from the mouths of some unlikable characters who are barely there enough to be called stereotypes.  Thank goodness, after the initial scenes in the dorm and during a beer party on the campus lawn, most of the coy teen-romance and "whoa, dude" crap is dispensed with and we begin to tolerate such college mainstays as inveterate slob Dylan (Eddie Hassell), straight-laced teetotaler Kolt (Steven Grayhm), Emma's ditzy roommate Gabby (Holland Roden), and a trio of gossipy bully girls who are mean to poor, disturbed Emma.

Emma, meanwhile, seems to have a mental mainline to all the otherworldly vibes given off by the old asylum next door, and is a bundle of nerves who can barely look at her laptop or dream a dreamy dream without seeing shadows and glimpses of Levius everywhere (accompanied by the usual musical stings). 

Director A.D. Calvo (THE MIDNIGHT GAME) creates a densely ominous atmosphere within the darkened after-hours dorm (some of it not unlike that established by Kubrick in THE SHINING) and packs it with all the ghostly visions and jump scares he can muster.  Some of this can't help being scary, while much of it is simply Calvo trying to goose us at every turn. 

But the ambience of unease is effective, aided by good visuals and the fact that Joe Carrano's moody music and sound design are done by the same person and thus work hand in hand.

The real fun begins when our heroes and heroines start displaying kooky behavior that is totally not within their norm.  Dylan the slob becomes an obsessive neat freak, while social butterfly Gabby starts getting all weepy and suicidal while going on about how much she loves her pet rat.  Mild-mannered Kolt shows the most disturbing change, however, suddenly morphing into a hooch-guzzling sex maniac who may or may not be responsible for the disapperance of one of the bad girls. 

Meanwhile, it's up to the girl with the real emotional problems, our damaged dove Emma, to try and set all of this straight, which leads to a showdown between her and Levius within the dark and terrifying confines of the asylum itself.  As before, what happens is way more "ghost story" spooky than violent, and anyone expecting the usual gory body-count action is going to be severely disappointed.  In fact, when it's all over you may feel as though you've just watched a college-level version of a "Nick at Nite" ghost story. 

Performances are adequate, especially when the cast start having fun acting out their ghostly counterparts' behavior.  Inbar Lavi as Emma is the standout, making us emphathize with her character without having to overdo it.  Technically, the film looks good but not too slick, and there's a bit of an 80s SILENT SCREAM-type vibe to it that I found appealing. 

The asylum is one of those ideal found locations that add immeasurably to a film's production values as in such other fright flicks as CREDO (THE DEVIL'S CURSE) and PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED.  A factoid during the closing credits tells us that the story was inspired by the discovery in the Oregon State Hospital of the unclaimed ashes of thousands of deceased patients.

The DVD from  Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  No extras.

After an attention-getting opening sequence, HOUSE OF DUST settles into yawn-inducing boredom until it slowly makes its way toward being fairly entertaining again.  That is, if a traditional ghost story permeated by an ominous atmosphere--and barely any gore--is enough to give you the shivers. 

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