One of the biggest difficulties when making films on extremely limited budgets is transferring a cool thought in your head to something that will appear equally cool onscreen. A bad-ass line can fall flat due to poor acting; an amazing kill can be felled by weak special effects; and a tricky camera move can come off as clunky due to lack of proper equipment. With few exceptions, cool costs money. It takes a talented director to work around these limitations while still being able to tell a unique, engaging story – and throw in a few choice set-pieces that keep the audience on their toes.
SLASHER HOUSE has one of the more unique concepts I’ve encountered in recent memory. The setting is an abandoned prison complex, and the cells have been filled with serial killers. In fact, they’ve been filled with archetypal movie slasher killers; the psychotic clown, the detached, manipulative Hannibal Lecter-type, the hulking masked maniac. Dropped into the middle of this circus of death are the red-haired Felissa – who has seemingly forgotten everything about her past – and the nerdy Nathan. The pair work together to survive their increasingly dangerous predicament, while simultaneously trying to find a way out.
With its David Fincher-esque green tint, the apparent series of clues strewn about the prison, and vulnerable protagonists, you could be forgiven for thinking at first that this was going to be another low-budget SAW rip-off. However, U.K.-based director Mj Dixon has something very different in mind, and after he gets through the initial set-up, things rapidly take a series of interesting turns. As you’ve probably already figured out, not everyone is exactly who they seem, but the movie smartly doesn’t rely on a series of twists to keep the audience’s interest. It’s the overall mystery of the proceedings that keeps things moving along, and Dixon wisely throws in some effective gore from time-to-time to remind us of the high stakes involved.
The film’s biggest asset is the prison itself, which is presented as an immense place which could be hiding any number of terrifying secrets. While it’s hard to get a strong sense of the layout of the cavernous location, we do get glimpses of rooms containing an electric chair, and one full of surgical equipment. It’s a nightmarish place, which is definitely appropriate for the scenario our main characters are faced with. The halls have been dressed extremely well, and great pains have obviously been taken to make the individual rooms easy to distinguish. It’s the sort of location most microbudget directors dream of, and Dixon does a fine job showing it off.
As each killer reveals themselves, we’re given a flashback to them in action – and the departure from the eye-searing style of the prison is refreshing, providing a brief respite from the eyeball-searing visual palette and giving the director a chance to dip into a few different styles. It’s a fine way of breaking up the action, and hints at a larger back-story that is slowly coming together. Best of the bunch is the hulking masked killer Thorn, whose flashback consists solely of him brutally dismembering some teenagers. You can’t beat the classics.
But that speaks to a larger problem with the film. Dixon has style to spare, but the film takes a hit every time his characters are asked to speak. The performances are not wretched, but they don’t live up to the high standards of the rest of the film. Much of the success of the film relies on Felissa (Eleanor James, UNRATED: THE MOVIE) being able to believably transition from vulnerable to deadly, but she looks more befuddled by her situation than genuinely scared, and isn’t able to bring any sense of intimidation to the role once she starts to fight back. Adam Williams does a bit better as the pleasantly dorky Nathan Robbins, but Wellington Grosvenor as Corben is weak – delivering his postulations in a sleepy monotone almost entirely devoid of menace.
A striking, impressive feature which makes the most of an intriguing premise, SLASHER HOUSE is certainly one of the better horror films currently available through Chemical Burn Entertainment. While saddled with some inconsistent performances, and visuals that can occasionally be overbearing, the story itself is dripping with cool, and MJ Dixon stretches his minuscule £5,000 budget well past the point I would have thought possible. Just more proof that talent can overcome limitations of budget – though the incredible shooting location certainly helps. A welcome alternative to the dozens of microbudget slasher films out there, and one well worth your dollars (or pounds).
Two Nightmares out of Five = Shocking Success
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016