[review by JA Kerswell]
Well, the good news is that I've found a cure for insomnia. The bad news is that I had to watch the almost unrelentingly tedious OPEN HOUSE to discover it.
Admittedly, on paper it sounds like a winner – if only in the so-bad-it's-good-stakes. A giggling killer who eats dog food kills vacuous real estates agents sporting bubble perm mullets. He does this on one occasion by attaching razor blades to a toilet plunger. Not to mention it stars genre vet Adrienne Barbeau and is helmed by a Bollywood director. What could go wrong? Oh, let me count the ways…
To give OPEN HOUSE its dues it starts off pretty well. An arresting opening scene has agony uncle DJ, Dr David Kelly (Joseph Bottoms) listen to a suicidal caller talk about her woes. Clearly he's heard it all before (he makes paper airplanes as she pours her heart out), and tells her that people who talk about suicide rarely follow through. Perhaps sensing his apathy she pulls out a gun and shoots herself in the head. Believe me, I shared her sentiments by the half hour mark.
Surprisingly, despite an on-going enquiry, Dr Kelly continues making his show: taking calls from people complaining about everything from farts in restaurants to the traffic situation in LA approaching MAD MAX proportions. He also takes a call from a Southern Belle bemoaning her man's lack of interest (which turns out to be a seduction exercise by his girlfriend Lisa Grant (Barbeau), who runs a realty agency). He also takes a series of calls from someone called Harry, who seems to know more than he's letting on about who's knocking off those “real estate bimbos”. Thankfully for the police the commissioner's wife is a fan of the show and tips them off about the nut job who's been whispering sweet nothings to Dr Kelly.
As more agents get sliced, diced, electrocuted, hung and more it becomes a (rather lethargic) race against time to stop Lisa Grant becoming the next big haired realtor on the killer's shitlist …
I'd avoided OPEN HOUSE previously for no other reason than it was heavily cut on video in the UK. Now that I've seen it the problem isn't that it was cut by over a minute; rather that the other 80 odd minutes were left in.
As any subgenre aficionado worth their salt will tell you, the only real sin when it comes to making a slasher movie is making a boring one. Despite a few cheesy flourishes, OPEN HOUSE is a snoozer of the first order. Far too much time is spent on a feud between Grant and her odious nemesis (an admittedly spirited performance by Barry Hope, who just oozes sleaze) and the lengthy segments dedicated to the romance between Grant and Kelly that would have been better suited in a light romantic comedy. The violent set pieces (and God only knows why this was ever cut as it's hardly that gory even when it's complete) are pretty much over in the blink of an eye before we return to soap the never-ending opera-ish tedium.
To top it all off, OPEN HOUSE is appropriately accompanied by perhaps the blandest 80s score on record. By the time the SWAT team turned up at the end to shoot the killer dead a part of me wished that a gun would come out of the TV set and shoot me dead, too. The only thing keeping me awake was that I was stuck on a level of Angry Birds on my phone. I think you get the picture. This film sucked the big one – and then some.
Believe me, I love bad movies. On paper this movie sounds like a hoot – even more so that it comes from the house of Sandy Cobe (the producer behind such demented slasher classics TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT (1980), HOME SWEET HOME (1981) and TERROR ON TOUR (1980)). In OPEN HOUSE, the killer is kind to kittens, but kills because of high house prices (a motive admittedly as delightfully daft as some of those that grace the most insane gialli). One scene reaches levels of inspired insanity when a realtor (played by Morgan Fairchild's younger sister!) finds a dead body in the shower and screams and screams and screams and screams – with the camera cutting quickly between the dead body and her screaming from inside her mullet and then back again and again and again. It's like some demented version of the famous shower scene in PSYCHO and just when you think it must finish it carries on and on and on.
There's even a chortle inducing moment when the killer (sans brains as they have just been blown out behind him) comes back to life for one last scare at the end (and I use the word scare advisedly). The killer even describes his motive in a monologue that goes on longer than the Gwyneth Paltrow's sphincter clenching acceptance speech at the Oscars in 1999.
If you really want to avoid spoilers skip this paragraph (although this really isn't a whodunit, or at least anything approaching a competent one): the killer turns out to be a homeless guy. Yes, just some anonymous homeless guy. A better film could have made something out of the fact that someone who has nothing kills those that facilitate the lifestyles of those that have everything. But this is not that movie. Although, I did idly wonder how he managed to shuffle around Bel Air without being noticed!
To say that this is not Barbeau's finest hour is perhaps something of an understatement (she took the role to pay for her son's tuition fees). To her credit, she does the best she can with the material. Bottoms' role as the DJ is perhaps a nod to Barbeau's in the vastly superior THE FOG (1980) (helmed by her then husband John Carpenter). A similar premise (of a killer calling playing a game of cat and mouth with a phone) was utilised in other late 80s slasher and thrillers (and usually to better effect), such as APOLOGY (1986) and OUT OF THE DARK (1989).
Director, Jag Mundhra, passed away recently. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead (but it is difficult not to) also inflicted HALLOWEEN NIGHT on audiences the same year before graduating to filming Shannon Tweed's bra pinging off ad nauseum in a number of her interminable early 90s 'erotic thrillers'.
OPEN HOUSE was shot in 1986. It was barely released to theatres in 1987 before ending up on video and cable like a shot in 1988.
female:6 / male:3
1) Female shoots herself in the head
2) Female found dead in the shower
3) Male slashed to death
4) Female slashed to death
5) Female electrocuted
6) Female found hung
7) Male decapitated with axe (off screen)
8) Female has neck broken with dog chain
9) Male shot in the head