“So we’re not getting the diamonds,” suggests Mark (Zino Ventura) about a third of the way through Alastair Orr’s From A House On Willow Street, as he realises that their heist is looking unlikely to go as planned.
In fact, the game changed in 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had fugitive embezzler Marion Crane pull in for the night at an offroad motel run by one Norman Bates. Ever since, viewers have grown used to the idea that criminal actions onscreen can often lead to radical shifts in genre – a narrative pattern followed by films as otherwise varied as From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Malevolence (2003), Dead Birds (2004) and Livid (2011).
So when, near the beginning of From A House On Willow Street, we see Mark, Hazel, her boyfriend Ade (Steven Ward) and his cousin James (Gustav Gerderner) meticulously plotting the abduction of Katherine Hudson (Carlyn Burchell) from her home on Willow Street so that they can demand a huge ransom from her diamond-dealing father, we have an inkling that their best laid plans are going to run up against a diabolical counterplot. After all, James explicitly warns his partners-in-crime – and us along with them – to “expect the unexpected”; and we have yet to see explained the impressionistic prologue of family photographs, flames and children’s dolls.
All four kidnappers are haunted by personal loss, and once the hallucinatory horror kicks in, Orr really steps up the excess, with ghosts, monsters, exorcisms and a whole new set of rules (accompanied with their own overabundance of exposition, conveyed through ‘found footage’).
“Of course it is,” comments Hazel when informed that the fusebox she needs to fix is in the basement. It is a knowing nod and a wink to genre convention, in a film that dons the trappings of horror the way a demon possesses a human host. Indeed, there is not one but two shadowy basements in From A House On Willow Street: one at the isolated address of the title, the other beneath the abandoned factory where the crew is holed up with their abductee. The factory is a large dilapidated complex that also boasts one room with random hanging chains, another (inexplicably) full of creepy mannequins, and even an inaccessible crawlspace. In other words, this film manages to pack into its 90-minute running time every clichéd ghost-train location imaginable – and in case you miss the point, stretched between house and factory there are only deep dark woods, complete with atmospheric mists.
In the end, From A House On Willow Street is hardly a genre game-changer – but there is much fun to be had with its po-faced silliness and macabre maximalism. And even if the FrightFest screening represents the film’s world première, on this first date it still gives plenty of tongue…
© Anton Bitel