"Lucifer needs a host to return ...".
A tense prologue finds middle-aged Elliot (Tony Manders) going out of his mind in the titular house, tucked away somewhere in the British countryside. He has his wife Miranda (Kate Lush) and son Smithy (Oliver Ebsworth) tied to chairs and is determined to end their lives. Despite Miranda's pleas for mercy, Elliot brutally stabs the pair to death.
Fast-forward several years and we meet Eric (Andrew Hollingworth), his girlfriend Hayley (Becca Hirani) and their teenage daughter Penny (Faye Goodwin). They've bought the house on the lake for a steal, on account of the fact that it's stood empty ever since the aforementioned atrocity occurred. But beggars can't be choosers: with no money to their name and Eric trying to prove himself after having cheated on Hayley several months previously, this really is their "fresh start".
The lake setting is idyllic, while the house itself impresses all three of them. But, as they settle in to their new abode, things swiftly turn weird.
For a start, Eric turns up at the nearby garage where he's pre-arranged to take over following the boss's retirement, only to discover the boss has died and co-worker Mike (Tim Freeman) has assumed the position of new garage manager. Mike scoffs when he learns that Eric has moved his family to Elm Lake.
Then there's the fact that Eric catches sight of a naked man creeping through the house while he's making love to Hayley. In fact, Eric begins acting increasingly odd once he ventures out to the house's neighbouring shed one evening and encounters ... something.
Penny begins to talk of an imaginary friend called Smithy, who inspires her to draw a crude crayon picture of a family standing outside the lake house, covered in blood.
When Hayley unearths Elliot's old diary detailing how he believed himself to be possessed by Lucifer, she calls old pal Crystal (Lorena Andrea) for advice. Crystal does what any good would do and turns up with a Ouija board. The pair of them set about putting the board to use and, sure enough, they are soon in contact with Miranda's spirit - who warns of danger within the house.
Perturbed by this and the results of Internet search which explain how Elliot butchered his family as a sacrifice to Satan before taking his own life, Hayley determines to enlist the services of psychic Julie (Tara MacGowran).
In the meantime, Eric has started pissing and vomiting blood, has developed pronounced black bags beneath his eyes and is hearing voices telling him to "Kill ... kill ...". Penny's getting poorly, Hayley's getting frantic ... and the ghosts of Elm Lake are becoming ever more restless.
Director James Klass co-wrote HOUSE ON ELM LAKE with Shannon Holiday. The screenplay is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it makes efforts to delve into the complexities of relationships and build upon characterisation. Indeed, some of the film's finer moments are during its more "kitchen sink drama" scenes. On the other hand, its approach to horror is steeped in cliche.
Moving in to a house with a murderous past and becoming possessed by the spirits which remain? Yeah, we've had that in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and its countless imitations. The disembodied arms which grope Eric on his bed? Straight out of REPULSION. The scene in which Eric and Hayley have sex while drenched in blood? Hello, ANGEL HEART. A flesh-bound book which holds the key to the evils engulfing the house? THE EVIL DEAD! I could go on.
To its credit, HOUSE ON ELM LAKE (ignore the horribly generic-sounding title) is stylish and taut enough to overcome these trappings. It's a naturally dark, dour-looking proposition but effectively so, and Klass puts a lot of thought into each composition - framing, camera angles, the use of light and shade for maximum atmosphere etc.
The lead actors are decent. However, what really hampers the film are the peripheral performers - who for the most part are pretty awful. Then you've got the filmmakers' penchant for having characters roar in guttural demonic voices which just comes across as hackneyed and, worse still, silly.
Despite my misgivings, I applaud HOUSE ON ELM LAKE for looking so good (the cinematography is great) and for possessing such atmosphere. Hirani and Hollingworth hold the drama together, and if the Internet Movie Database is correct, this was all filmed in 8 days on a budget of just £3,000.00. Which is pretty fucking impressive.
HOUSE ON ELM LAKE is available now as a Video On Demand title. We were sent an online screener link courtesy of distributors Wild Eye Releasing. I note that the film is also available on UK DVD, via Left Films.
With regards to the online screener: the film looks great in a pin-sharp, noise-free presentation which reflects the film's original 2.35:1 ratio and gives it the 16x9 treatment.
English stereo audio was similarly reliable.
Ambitious, stylish and formidably straight-faced, HOUSE ON ELM LAKE has a lot to recommend. But it's also steeped in tropes that will have you pining for better films of yore. Don't let that put you off though; it's worth a look, definitely. I'd like to see what Klass does next.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Wild Eye Releasing|