9 March 2017



Apparently the writer of this brilliant horror film came up with the idea for it from a nightmare he had. I can well bloody believe it. I had plenty of those myself after watching the film. It's pretty much my favourite type of horror film, the kind where a bunch of people move into a new house only to find that the house hates them and wants to kill them, haha. Ah, you know what I mean. The house is either haunted or it's a murder house or both or something.

In this case, the house is a murder house. Four members of the one family all died brutally there (by hanging) and now the house is occupied again, this time by Ethan Hawke, as true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt, and his annoying family: his shrill English-accented wife Tracy, their 'artist' daughter and their son Trevor who has night terrors and urgently needs a haircut. What is he, the boy from ROOM? At least that kid had an excuse...!

Anyway, believe it or not, Ellison has moved his family into the murder house in the full knowledge that people have died there, unlike most of the shmucks who move into these accursed places in films. He's writing a true-crime book about the grisly murders in the desperate hope of repeating the success he had some years before with a previous book.

The house is exceptionally obliging. It chucks an old projector Ellison's way, plus a big box of Super 8 film reels with old home movies on them. Each reel features the gruesome murder of a family, with the mysterious addition of a fancy symbol and a creepy-looking masked figure in each.

With the aid of a local copper, the cutely-nicknamed Deputy So-and-So, Ellison finds out that these murders date from the 'Sixties to recent times and have taken place in various cities across America. With each murder, not only were families slaughtered brutally but a child of the family went missing as well, never to be found.

Ellison is freaked-out but excited too. This book he's writing could be the bestseller that's eluded him since KENTUCKY BLOOD, the book he's famous for writing. But when his missus finds out that she's- that they're all- living in the actual murder house where the last lot of killings took place, she's going to go ballistic. And this shouldn't take too long, either, as everyone in town knows what happened in the house. It's only a matter of time before someone spills the beans.

Ellison has worse problems than his whiny missus, though. His house is evil and might be trying to kill him, just like we talked about earlier. Spooky occurrences happen nightly, though it seems like no-one but Ellison is ever awake for these.

Who exactly is the eerie-looking masked figure in the ironically-titled home movies? With my eyes scrunched up a bit, he looks a lot like musician Nick Cave but who is he really? And what does he want? If it's kids, well, the Oswalts have two of the little blighters.

And he shouldn't have any trouble accessing them, either. Not so long as their Pops insists on charging out into the garden to search for boogeymen in the dead of night, armed with a baseball bat but leaving the bloody front door wide open and his family unprotected. Rookie mistake, Stupid Movie-Dad, rookie mistake...!

I actually found this film quite frightening and had nightmares after it, so it definitely must have been doing something right. It was directed by the chap who gave us THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, another great but extremely creepy film, so I'm not surprised that it's super-spooky. 

The jump scares gave me multiple heart attacks, although you'd think that I'd know where to expect 'em by now...! There's a sequel that I'd really like to see now as well, plus I find the topic of true-crime writing rather interesting.

I used to read a lot of these books at one time, especially those penned by the late Ann Rule, whose biggest success was a book called THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, in which she details how she
worked at a crisis centre in the 'Seventies right alongside a handsome and personable young law student called Ted Bundy who, of course, was the first criminal to whom the term 'serial killer' was officially applied. 

Ann Rule also wrote (among many other books) GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED, a fantastic but obviously grim book about the serial murder of lonely, down-on-their-luck prostitutes by the anonymous-looking truck driver (Gary Leon Ridgway) who came to be known as The Green River Killer, but THE STRANGER BESIDE ME will always be my (and maybe other peoples') favourite.

There were a couple of extra features on my SINISTER disc that simultaneously interested and terrified me. One was about true-crime writers in which the son- the son!- of the alleged notorious BLACK DAHLIA murderer George Hill Hodel (who was never charged with the crime and was only ever one of many suspects) tells us how he came to write one of these books about his supposedly infamous Pappy.

The other special feature was even spookier. It was partly about the trouble with selling so-called 'murder houses' from a real estate agent's point of view (check out the episode of THE SIMPSONS where Marge sells a 'murder house' while working for Lionel Hutz's real estate agency!), but there was more to it than that.

It was specifically about the house where an entire family (six family members plus two house-guests; two adults and six children in all) was axed to death in 1912 in a place called Villisca in America. Their story made my blood run cold in my veins.

The house, where supernatural phenomena are alleged to take place, is a museum now, but people can pay to stay there overnight and take as many stupid selfies of themselves (and the ghosts!) as they wish. The instances of paranormal happenings is highest in the attic, where the killer is supposed to have hidden before popping out and yelling 'surprise!' or whatever way it happened. 

Is it okay to advertise the place as a tourist attraction just because the murders happened over a century ago? I don't know whether it is or not, but I do know one thing for certain. You couldn't pay me to sleep there.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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