Have you ever watched a movie thinking it was going to be one kind of movie, and then it turned out to be a completely different kind of movie. In cases like this, the viewer is either disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Thankfully, the latter was true for me with HAVENHURST. I thought I was sitting down for a creepy ghost story, but what I got was something far more intense and brutal!
HAVENHURST wastes no time getting down to the bloodshed. SCREAM did it, PSYCHO did it, so why wouldn’t HAVENHURST kill off its most well known actress in the first five minutes? I was like, “awesome, Danielle Harris is running down a hall screaming and covered in blood!” Next thing you know, Danielle Harris is killed off: A little shock to the system to get the party started.
The setting of HAVENHURST is a very creepy and ominous-looking hotel. Although the location is much more urban, I can’t watch a horror movie that takes place in a hotel without instantly thinking of Stanley Kubrick’s classic THE SHINING.
You can tell that our protagonist Jackie (Julie Benz) has some personal demons of her own, as she is trying to solve the disappearance of her friend Danielle. She checks herself into the Havenhurst hotel, and it’s actually these remorseful thoughts and vices which appeal to the hotel manager Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan). Eleanor is perfectly menacing. You can tell she is crazy, but you write it off because she is a sweet little old lady. She is the living embodiment of the horror movie “rules” (don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex, don’t be a jerk… and you’ll live). HAVENHURST feels like AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL, but without the camp factor.
It doesn’t take long for the murders to start piling up. The level of brutality reminds me of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004), another great horror movie that takes place in a hotel. This movie definitely doesn’t skimp on the gore. HAVENHURST does a balancing act on whether it’s torture porn or not. I appreciate that it dips its toes in the deep end of the pool, but never fully jumps in.
One of the inhabitants of the Havenhurst hotel is Sarah (Belle Shouse), and you quickly learn that she is the key to Jackie solving the disappearance of Danielle, and staying alive. When Sarah gives Jackie the piece of advice — “be good, you don’t want to be a victim” — it would be wise to follow what she says. I would have to say that the whole cast is amazing, really top notch. These are characters you care about. They know who they are, and play their roles well.
Some characters you care about more than others, of course. Wayne (Toby Huss) is Sarah’s foster father, and he is the quintessential wife-beating, pedophile scumbag. I just wanted to see him die.
Like most horror movies, to stay alive in HAVENHURST just don’t break the rules, and you’ll be fine. I literally screamed at the screen, “don’t do it,” when Jackie decides that the only way to unravel the mystery of Havenhurst is to break the rules. At this point, you realize that there is nothing supernatural going on — just a family of psychopaths who want people to live a good and righteous life. Yes, my favorite kind of madness.
While Jackie is running for her life, and trying to save Sarah at the same time, we find out that the hotel has surveillance cameras everywhere, secret passageways, hidden staircases, trap doors, and a torture chamber in the basement. Just as I am thinking that this all sounds very much like the hotel that H.H. Holmes (America’s first documented serial killer) built in 1893, a major reference is made to H.H. Holmes.
The only thing negative I can say about HAVENHURST is that the third act felt a bit rushed. Other than that, it’s an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. The pulse-pounding score, and the lush colorization on the cinematography really helped propel the madness of HAVENHURST to another level. If the fictitious family in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is based on serial killer Ed Gein, then the psycho family in HAVENHURST can easily be based on H.H. Holmes, and I can dig it.