If there is one thing to be learned from the happenings in independent film over the last few years, it is that Henrique Couto is a rising star. Couto is a master story teller and visionary director. He knows what he wants and how to get it when filming. His most recent film, Haunted House on Sorority Row, was his most collaborative to date when it comes to bringing in other professionals to create his art. Obviously, this collaborative nature of the film worked out for Couto. Not only is his upcoming project, Scarewaves, an even greater example of Couto's new level of collaboration, but Haunted House on Sorority Row was a standout film by an already accomplished film-maker.
In just the opening three minutes of the film, we get a glimpse at the setting for the movie, the haunted house. We are shown clearly how isolated it is and how menacing it can look in the darkness. The setting could be a character on its own, it is such an effective part of the mood of the movie. We also get a glimpse of what is in store for us in terms of the make-up effects that will be on display throughout the film. Erica Blackstock, who had previously worked with Couto on Babysitter Massacre, and Geoff Turner, who previously worked with Couto on Faces of Schlock, are at the top of their game with the amazing make-up and special effects during the film. Their work here proves that it is not the size of the budget you have available, but what you make of it. Their art shines through as an example of the high caliber talent that Couto brings in to his projects. The make-up is truly scary and the special effects are simple yet powerful. I particularly liked the bleeding wall socket and the bleeding mirror effects, the latter of which actually perfected one of my favorite performances in the movie. The simple, yet scary effects provided by Blackstock and Turner allow Joni Durian to give her performance its all while adding to the scene instead of detracting from it with over-the-top and unbelievable effects.
Each of the talented actors brings their best to the screen for this film. A few of the performances are even more impressive if you have seen other work by the cast. The movie helps several of them really portray the range of acting of which they are capable, even within the same genre. The two standout performances among all of the others are that of Joni Durian and Erin Ryan. Joni's character is probably the farthest from anything she has done previously. She goes from playing a timid, insecure individual to a take charge, determined, no nonsense lead. Erin Ryan's fragile and mousy performance is easy to get lost in and forget the strong characters she has played previously. In particular, Erin's scene in the basement may be the best performance I have seen her give and anyone regular reader of The Rage Circus knows what a huge fan of hers I am. Eric Widing sets a whole new standard of what it means to be a douche bag on screen. Even the moments that seem a little over-acted make sense and fit once the story starts to progress.
The combination of Henrique Couto's directing and John Oak Dalton's acting create a story in which you can really find yourself getting lost. Dalton's writing shines as the dialogue comes across natural and drives the plot. The writing has the perfect mix of scares and laughs that create a rollercoaster of suspense and keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Strange occurrences begin to pile up at a great pace, maintaining the viewer's interest without giving too much too early. As with any good haunted house movie, once darkness falls, the house seems to become a character of itself. The darkness hides the promise of horror around every corner as the tension begins to build. Couto utilizes flashes and cutaways expertly to further keep the audience on edge and give the film a bit of a jump factor. The final piece to pull it all together is the music. Simply put, the music is creepy as hell and plays on the viewers emotions perfectly in sync with each other element of the film until the very end when the simple, but haunting melody from the music box closes the film.
When all is said and done, Haunted House on Sorority Row may just stand as Henrique Couto's current masterpiece. Even if he is not getting the budgets and the wide distribution he deserves, Couto clearly proves with this film that he is a professional director. He has masterfully brought together all of the elements of a great horror movie while keeping it all seem fresh and interesting. I know that this reviewer, and many others fans out there, cannot wait to see what Henrique Couto has in store for us next!
So, what is The Rage Circus breakdown?
Acting – 5/5
Story - 5/5
Effects - 5/5
Camera Work/Production Skill - 5/5
Overall Entertainment Value – 5/5
Total Score – 5/5 – You can't argue with a perfect 5! Go experience the horror that is Haunted House on Sorority Row!
You can get your copy of Haunted House on Sorority Row at Amazon today:
You can also get other great Henrique Couto movies and merchandise at his Storenvy Shop: http://hen.storenvy.com/