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The House That Screamed   D-

Sub Rosa Studios

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directors: Mark Polonia, John Polonia
Writer: John Polonia
Cast: Bob Dennis, Stevan Anselmi, Robert Thomas, Courtney Marie, Anthony Thomas, John Polonia, Gabrielle.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

In his review of Blood Red Planet, Nathan Shumate of Cold Fusion Video Reviews says of the Polonia Brothers: "While no one can dispute their obvious devotion to making movies, the sad truth is that the finished product is only 'watchable' in the broadest possible sense: Yes, if I put it in my VCR, my eyes can see it." That sentiment sums up my experience watching Sub Rosa's new DVD of Mark and John Polonia's The House That Screamed, but I'd have to add: Sure, I can see it, but I sure as hell don't believe it.

Within the first few seconds of the movie, a woman disrobes and begins taking a shower. Shots of her lathering up her breasts are intercut with point-of-view shots of someone walking up stairs while breathing heavily. We see where this is going. But the Polonia Bros. subvert our expectation that the heavy-breathing guy is going to kill the woman in the shower by abruptly ending the scene with quick flashes of insanely bad lightning graphics and an image of a skull that probably came as free clip art with Windows 95. Then a god-awful narrator reads some text as it scrolls over a graveyard background (another Windows 95 freebie?). The text is so far beyond ridicule that I've transcribed it, exactly as it appears in the film, on another page for readers seeking a few laughs.

Now, then. When The House That Screamed finally gets around to its story (and I use the term "story" loosely), we're introduced to Marty Beck (Bob Dennis), a horror novelist whose wife and child recently perished in a fire. Seeking inspiration for his next novel, Marty rents a reputedly haunted house to stay in while writing. The movie wants to be a scary frustrated-writer-driven-insane-by-a-haunted-house tale like The Shining, but even mentioning Kubrick's masterpiece in the same breath as this ridiculous abomination is tantamount to sacrilege. Sure, Jack Nicholson may have seemed a bit off his rocker to begin with, but there was still a slow and subtle progression to his ultimate insanity. In The House That Screamed, we're never convinced that Marty is being driven insane. Just that he's monumentally stupid.

And the house isn't even scary. Yes, that merry prankster Death likes to knock on the front door and hide before Marty opens it, but that's only terrifying the first couple of times. Then there's that plastic baby doll that attacks Marty (which he defeats by drowning in a sink) and the random hallucinations of a good-looking woman in red underwear rolling around and touching herself while getting naked (scared yet?) mixed with glimpses of mutilated severed heads and a little girl with an ax. He also has a few mundane encounters with some of the ghosts haunting the house. When one ghost tells him that he died in a war, Marty asks, "Which one?" The ghost (a stocky guy with a computer-generated white glow around him) says, "When brothers fought against brothers." Marty asks if he's speaking of the Civil War. "Yes, that one," the ghost replies. It's the Civil War ghost who explains to Marty what he has to do if he wants to understand "the house that screams." I won't ruin the surprise.

Marty could simply leave the house if he wanted, but as he tells his realtor, "This is making for a great book. My writing has never been better." See, no signs of insanity. Just stupidity. No signs of character development, either, or anything resembling a point to this lifeless mess. Because the film opens with Marty dealing with the pain of losing a wife and child, we're led to expect some kind of character arc that ties into Marty's loss, but it doesn't happen. What does happen in the climax is more likely to elicit chuckles of disbelief than revoltion or fright. It's tough to tell if the Polonia Bros. expect us to take this seriously, as it's played straight and there's no winking to let us in on the joke if that's what it's supposed to be. I guess the kindest thing I can about The House That Screamed is this: To say that it's shockingly incompetent on every conceivable level would be an understatement, but at least it seems like it's trying -- unlike even worse dreck like Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre.

Wait. Did I just use the phrase "even worse dreck" to describe something in comparison to The House That Screamed? I guess that's the most depressing thing about my experience watching this movie: the reminder that, as bad as it is, I've wasted precious hours of my life on even worse films. Maybe I should just be thankful that I've managed to avoid other Polonia Bros. movies like Feeders, Feeders 2: Slay Bells, Bad Magic, and The House That Screamed 2: Hellgate. I've heard from B-movie fans and other critics that The House That Screamed ranks as their best film. That's a scary thought.

Review published 04.01.2003.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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