House of Ghosts by Jason Coffman
Originally posted at http://www.filmmonthly.com/film/house-of-ghosts
Minnesota-based filmmaker Christopher Mihm is back with his latest homage to classic horror/sci-fi cinema, his seventh feature and first straight-up horror film. "House of Ghosts" is a tribute to the master of the "gimmick" horror film, William Castle. Mihm has patterned "House of Ghosts" on such Castle classics as "13 Ghosts" and "House on Haunted Hill," even opening with a personal introduction and warning about the horrific nature of the film viewers are about to see. The icing on the proverbial cake here is the inclusion of two "Fear Shields" with every copy of the DVD, useful for placing in front of the eyes in the case of extreme fright when things on-screen get too intense. Not that things ever get all that intense: like all of Mihm's previous films, "House of Ghosts" is era-appropriate in both form and content, and aside from a few creepy moments, this is about as family-friendly as independent horror films can get.
Eccentric couple Isaac (Mark Scanlan) and Leigh (Sid Korpi) invite some friends over on a chilly winter night for dinner and entertainment. Over the meal, they inform the guests that the "entertainment" is a medium who will allow them all to commune with the Other Side. The guests all take the news differently: gruff Harlan (Michael Cook) is annoyed, his somewhat dim young friend Ray (Justin Overlander) is just confused, mousey Ursula (Stephanie Mihm) hopes to contact her missing son, and former show-biz couple Arthur (James Norgard) and Mary (Catherine Hansen) can barely stop bickering long enough to pay attention to anything else going on. Just as dinner is wrapping up, local police officer Deputy Hayes (Michael G. Kaiser) drops by to inform everyone that the snowstorm is quickly getting worse, and all the guests are advised to stay in the house overnight until the storm blows over.
Shortly thereafter, the Medium (J. Andrew Wilkins) arrives with a mysterious machine that he claims can open the door to the Other Side, but also that he cannot control what comes through it. After an eerie but seemingly ineffective demonstration of the machine's function, the Medium takes his leave. However, while it seems his machine did little but make strange noises, odd things start happening throughout the house. Has the Medium's machine indeed opened a portal between worlds, or is something less supernatural but just as sinister happening? As the number of guests in the house dwindles, it's up to Harlan to keep everyone calm and figure out just what's going on before it's too lateľ if it isn't already.
Technically speaking, "House of Ghosts" is about on par with Mihm's previous features, although he has upgraded to an HD camera for this one. The special effects are as charmingly lo-fi as ever, with some great masks and some hilarious CG-assisted trickery. The cast is all over the place as usual, but it's nice to see familiar faces return from previous Mihm films playing new characters. The pacing is a little off at first, with the opening scenes front-loaded with a lot of stationary camera, but once the action picks up after the dinner scene the film moves along at a decent clip and comes in at 77 minutes, which is just about perfect for this type of movie. Fans of William Castle-style 50s and 60s horror films will certainly find a lot to like here, and fans of Mihm's previous "Mihmiverse" films will appreciate the nods to previous films in the director's canon. After seven features in as many years, it's become a welcome tradition to see the new Mihmiverse film and settle in with his familiar cast of collaborators. Here's hoping we get "The Giant Spider" on schedule next year around the same time!
"House of Ghosts" is available on DVD directly from Christopher Mihm's website, http://www.sainteuphoria.com. The DVD includes two "Fear Shields," and special features include two commentary tracks, a blooper reel, trailers, photo gallery, an alternate ending, "The Real House of Ghosts" featurette, and an introduction by Horror Host Dr. Ivan Cryptosis. Like Mihm's last film, "Attack of the Moon Zombies," "House of Ghosts" features Esperanto language and subtitle tracks!