“House on Willow Street” (2017): Enjoyable Visceral Scares, But Little Else

I really wanted to like writer/director Alastair Orr‘s latest effort, House on Willow Street  (AKA From a House on Willow Street)  more than I did. The early trailer offered up some nice visuals, a few good scares, and a nice hook for the story: A group of bad guys kidnap a girl to ransom her to her rich parents, but their luck heads south faster than college students on Spring Break weekend when it turns out there’s something a little more supernatural to the girl they’ve kidnapped than they bargained for.

The film itself opens up with our bad guys James, Mark, Hazel, and Ada (played by Gustav Gerdener, Zino Ventura, Sharni Vinson, and Steven John Ward respectively) planning and plotting their kidnapping of Kathrine (Carlyn Burchell) and how they’ll ransom her out. We then move forward a few weeks to the night of the crime itself. It’s made clear from the second they enter Kathrine’s home that something is very wrong. Of course, being bad guys in a horror film means ignoring the obvious even as they comment on it repeatedly.  

Our band of bad guys grab their girl and head off to their makeshift lair to record their ransom video and wait for their plan to play out. It’s at this point that things get weird for them and a little bit of literal hell begins to break loose all around them.

House on Willow Street has several good points, including the fact that all five of the actors are solid to exceptional in their roles. They play their parts perfectly in every moment of the film, especially Carlyn Burchell as Kathrine. She absolutely convincingly plays the pain and vulnerability of the damaged Kathrine, as well as the demonic menace of the thing to come, with equal ease.

The practical FX work in the film is top-notch work. It’s enhanced with some CGI here and there, and a there are handful of large computer generated FX moments, but the film’s bread and butter FX achievements are by far and away its practical FX work.

The directing and cinematography are on point.House on Willow Street makes good use of its key interior locations to create the type of mood and atmosphere you want in a film like this. Orr also throws in a few nice practical visual tricks with the directing that are fun (and scary) to see on screen.

House on Willow Street has some bad points, too, however.  First and foremost, the most annoying flaw with the film was the choice  of musical cues during the scenes meant to scare the viewer the most. The actors, the directing, and the FX all worked together perfectly to create some very nice jump scares and even a few scares that worked beyond merely being simple jump scares. What dragged their impact down was the music in those moments. The music’s volume suddenly jumps ridiculously high and you get what feels like a cheap musical jump scare attempt. It’s overdone to the point of feeling ham-handed, and it actually detracts from the scare in the moment.

There are too many moments of  House on Willow Street  – especially after things start really happening – that feel like padding meant to just be there in between the big bits. It’s not bad enough to really drag the film down, but it also doesn’t help the film out. Yes, you as the viewer are in fact waiting for the film’s next big moment, but you shouldn’t feel like even the film is taking breaks to just sit around and wait for the next big bit  in a film where people are supposed to be scared spitless and racing against time.

The concept of what this thing does and how it works is actually rather interesting. The way you’re slowly fed images and moments so as to seem random or senseless at first, but then all of sudden they make sense as you learn how this thing operates as well as the personal secrets and backgrounds of our bad guys, is amazingly well done. Where it falls apart is in how it simply becomes a little too much of a form of wash, rinse, and repeat with each person after that with really nothing else to make you care.

There’s a form of flashback in  House on Willow Street designed to explain the backstory of the paranormal event that takes place and to show the viewer what transpired in Kathrine’s life in between planning the kidnapping and the actual kidnapping. If there was any moment of the film that actually reached levels of bad that was strong enough to throw a viewer out of the film, it was during this sequence. There are moments of a poor man’s exorcism film in this section  that get almost laughable with their combination of mumbo-jumbo exposition and horror movie parody-level visuals; particularly with an apple.

Is  House on Willow Street worth a look despite these bad points?  Yeah, I’d say it is. This may not be a film you’ll want to own when the DVD or Blu-Ray drops, but it’s a fun little horror film for what it is. It may be the horror equivalent of an empty calorie meal, but it’s one that delivers some visceral thrills wrapped up in some technically solid film work. If nothing else, watch it with friends. This feels like the kind of movie that is only improved by enjoying it in a group experience.

House on Willow Street is out now on VOD and limited theatrical release.

House on Willow Street 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Jerry Chandler
Jerry Chandler has been a lifelong geek with a huge love of giant bug movies, rubber suited Japanese monster films, and horror hosts. He has strong leanings towards the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes, but he's most often found spending his time comfortably in the horror genre. He's Written for Nerdy Minds Magazine in the past and currently writes the Thursday column for Needless Things. He's been a guest on podcasts like Decades of Horror and Earth Station Who, and he can be found as a semi-regular on the ESO Pro Wrestling Roundtable podcast. He also volunteers at Dragon Con. When not doing geeky things he works around a lot of people who carry guns and tasers for a living and frequently worries that his penchant for bad jokes and puns will result in them being used on him. He's also not entirely sure at times that he's not a fictional character.