The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Scarehouse (dir by Gavin Michael Booth)

One night, a college student named Brandon died.

While two sorority pledges painted his face and then posed for selfies with his unconscious body, Brandon choked to death on his own vomit.  The pledges were named Corey (Sarah Booth) and Elaina (Kimberly-Sue Murray) and when they were put on trial for manslaughter, they claimed that it was just a prank gone wrong and that the other members of the sorority put them up to it.  Of course, no one was willing to back up their stories.  Instead, the president of the sorority, Jacqueline Gill (Katherine Barrell), just went on television and said that she hoped the two would ask God for forgiveness.  Corey and Elaina were convicted and sent to prison.

Two years later, Corey and Elaina have been released and now they’re looking for revenge.  However, a simple revenge will not do.  Elaina is an engineering genius and Corey … well, Corey’s just really angry.  They’ve set up an elaborate haunted house and they’ve sent a private invite to each member of the sorority…

Two girls seeking revenge for a sorority prank gone wrong sound like either the set up for a Lifetime movie or the world’s worst Lime-a-rita commercial.  (“So, this happened: we thought we were going to a haunted house but then it turned out we were actually being invited to our violent doom.  Yep, it was a Lime-a-rita night.”)  However, The Scarehouse is neither.  Instead, it’s a rather grisly horror film with a streak of extremely dark humor.

But is it any good?

Let’s start with what works.  Both Sarah Booth and Kimberly-Sue Murray give very good performances as the two girls.  Even when the script lets them down, Booth and Murray keep the movie from dying.  The film actually does some interesting things with the two characters.  It keeps us guessing about which one of them is really the driving force behind the whole revenge plot.  No sooner do you think that you’ve figured out their power dynamic then something will happen or words will said that force you to reconsider what you previously assumed.

Though I had a hard time believing that such an elaborate death trap could have been designed by just two people, the haunted house was a memorable and creepy location.  It was full of atmosphere and the promise of doom.  If I ever found myself in there, I’d probably be scared.

Finally, you always have to admire a horror film that doesn’t shy away from pursuing things to their darkest conclusion.  Once one enters the Scarehouse, there is no escape and everyone’s worst nature will be exposed.  There is no exit and Hell is other people.

At the same time, I’ve grown tired of movies that feature lengthy scenes of people being tortured.  After nearly two decades of Saw films and Hostel rip-offs, whatever shock value those scenes may have once had are gone.  The tortures in The Scarehouse are elaborate and sadistic and thoroughly unpleasant to sit through.  A girl with an eating disorder has her corset tightened until she literally splits in half.  A forced pillow fight leads to corrosive chemicals eating away at flesh.  Some of it is clever but, far too often, these scenes go on too long.  There’s only so long you can spend watching someone being tortured until you mentally check out.

As well, The Scarehouse uses a nonlinear time line.  In between the scenes of Corey and Elaina getting their revenge, we see flashbacks to the prank that led to death of Brandon.  But, since we already know what happened because it’s all Corey and Elaina ever talk about, there’s not really anything new to be discovered in the flashbacks.

Obviously, my feelings about The Scarehouse are mixed.  I was pretty dismissive immediately after I watched it but the movie has definitely stuck with me.  It has its flaws but it also has two memorable and frightening performances.  Watch at your own discretion.


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