September 16, 2014
Bill Moseley as Peter Van Hooten
Leslie Easterbrook as Irene Van Hooten
Allan Kayser as Cliff Rifton
Callie Stephens as Leslie
When it comes to oddball flicks and perplexing execution, House of the Witchdoctor is a piece that absolutely must invade the thought process. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an unorthodox picture that feels as though it isn’t entirely certain of what it wants to be. The twists come flying at the viewer in abundance, and while the strings ultimately come together to tie an understandable little knot, the buildup to the finale might have you scratching your head… and drawing numerous comparisons to an assortment of other films, like The Strangers, Last House on the Left and House of the Devil.
A strange amalgamation, right?
The story starts with the introduction of a rugged fellow fresh out of the penitentiary. He seems like a guy hoping to get back to life on the outside, move on from his dark past. Then he kills his mother, and we realize he’s not reformed in the slightest bit. In fact, he embarks on a mission of terror and ultimately focuses on a group of friends who travel to a rural home – owned by the parents of one of the group – with the intention of raping, torturing and murdering them. He’s brought along a buddy for this expedition, and the two waste little time getting into the grimy business. But after killing most of the group, the duo find that the tables have turned. There’s a knock at the door, and suddenly the owners of the home have returned, with a large group of masked men with an assortment of weapons. A trip to the basement leads to a strange sacrificial showdown that very few, if any, will survive.
The home invasion aspect of the film is aggressive and unrelenting. It’s also extremely boring, believe it or not. This is all standard mayhem that we’ve seen too many times to count. However, when the odd folks who look a lot like the antagonists from The Strangers show up, things get interesting. The revenge element of the film definitely hearkens back to Last House on the Leftand the final twist could have come directly from Ti West’s notebook. Does it all work together? Not really. The first two acts of the picture are extremely stale, and the genre staples (nudity, ultra-violence, etc.) don’t save what must ultimately be considered subpar writing. The big twist however is genuinely interesting. Perhaps it’s the unpredictability of it all, and perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a desperately needed swing in the momentum of the picture. Whatever it is, it goes a long way in saving a shitty film.
No one in the cast turns in particularly impressive performances. Bill Moseley shows up, but he does just enough to get by, duplicating countless other characters he’s portrayed over the years. Leslie Easterbrook is onboard, and she’s as creepy as she’s ever been, but she’s essentially juggling a bit part, which leaves plenty to be desired. It was cool seeing Allan Kayser (you’ll recognize him as the tool, Brad in Night of the Creeps) pop up, but I’m not convinced this was the ideal role for him, and Danny Miller could have been a good hero (he’s certainly got the look), but that wasn’t meant to be. The rest of the bunch are neither terrible nor amazing, serviceable and little else.
Writer/Director Devon Mikolas does his best to create a stimulating piece of cinema. In general, it doesn’t work, but the bright moments of House of the Witchdoctor are rather engaging. Had the first hour of the film held more allure, we’d be eyeing an independent gem. The first hour however, isn’t enlightening in the least, which is a big hit to a film that wants to be grandiose despite some very noticeable limitations. This one is fair at best, but you’ll need to hang on until the end to pull that from the film. If you bail early, you’ll have wasted your time.