Sunday, 31 January 2016



How to measure the effectiveness of a horror movie? One idea I'm trying out is to rate them according to how long I can keep watching it in a darkened room at night before deciding I need to have the light on because the movie is creeping me out. This scale is obviously not suitable for all horror movies - Zombie Flesh Eaters will score zero, which is the same as, say, Carry On Cleo - but for the ones that actively set out to be scary and creepy rather than violent and gory, it might possibly be a useful measure of how well some films live up to their promises.

On this scale, The House On Pine Street scores at about twenty minutes: that was around the point where I had to put the lights back on. Which isn't bad, given that many horrors can't genuinely scare you in a darkened cinema when the screen is the size of a house. And it's even more impressive given that there's no violence or gore, there are no special effects sequences or big spectacular setpieces. It's done, and done very well, with sound, with suggestion, generating horror from noises off and things you don't actually see.

It starts, like so many horror movies do, with a couple moving into their new home. Jennifer (Emily Goss) is seven months pregnant and they've relocated from the big city back to her small hometown after a breakdown. She didn't want to come back, she doesn't like the house and she doesn't appreciate the intrusions and interferences of her overbearing mother. But it's not long before terrifying things start to happen: mysterious sounds from upstairs, objects apparently moving by themselves, doors that won't stay shut, handprints appear in dirt in the basement. A visitor comments on the house's unusual energy, and (most chillingly) a young child can clearly see someone standing behind Emily in an otherwise empty room...

So what is the mysterious entity? Is the house actually haunted, or is there some cold and scientifically rational explanation for the increasingly frightening events? Or is there some other paranormal force at work? In recent years there have been a few apparently traditional haunted house movies that have based their scares in newer and more intriguing ideas, such as experiments in time travel or alien presences. What's behind events in The House On Pine Street is more psychological and less SF than those films, but it's no less scary because it's still taking place in the kind of domestic environment we've all lived in at some point (rather than an island full of zombies or a cobwebby old castle). It has the sense of a real house on a real street with real neighbours, and not a studio set full of actors; it doesn't have any glamour or big movie style and spectacle, as compared with a "proper film" like, for example, Poltergeist, but the subtle approach makes it far creepier and far more unsettling, and so much the better for it. I was gripped pretty much throughout and greatly enjoyed it. Even with the lights on.


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