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HOUSE OF SALEM **
Directed by James Crow. Starring Jack Brett Anderson, Andrew Lee Potts, Liam Kelly, Jessica Arterton, Leslie Mills, Robert Lowe, Anna Nightingale, Danny Szam. UK 2016 100 mins Certificate: 15
Released on DVD and On Demand from Left Films on October 1st 2018
Child actor Liam Kelly, making his debut and spending the film dressed in a onesie and clutching his teddy bear, is the best thing about this sometimes-clunky hybrid of 70’s style Devil movie and kidnap drama from Kent-based writer-director James Crow. It’s a step up from his earlier occult offering CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE (2015) though still burdened by overlength and hokey dialogue.
The set up is compelling: Josh (Kelly) is a “special” 12 year old boy who talks to his toy lamb “St Peter” and exhibits signs of psychological fracturing, having been raised by his aunt and uncle (Anna Nightingale, Andrew Lee Potts) after the demise of his immediate family. This well-off family unit is targeted by small time criminals sporting sinister clown masks; they stage a botched home invasion and escape with Josh in tow, not realising that he’s a pivotal element in the diabolical preparations for an imminent ritual.
There’s an interesting dynamic between the gang members at the core of HOUSE OF SALEM, with Jessica “cousin of Gemma” Arterton impressing as the youngest member of the troupe while gang boss Leslie Mills, creepy Danny Szam and thuggish Robert Lowe play off each other. The nightmare-laden build up, with sinister scenes of the disturbed Josh menaced by his closet-dwelling dead brother, bodes well, but the interaction between his captors descends into heavy handed low budget crime movie profanity, reaching a possible nadir with “I’ll cut your fucking face off and mail it back to the care home where you came from!”
While the tension of the home invasion / kidnap story ebbs and flows, the horror side of HOUSE OF SALEM falls back on cheap shock tactics and heavily telegraphs its downbeat ending. The genre melding feels very much like a contrived spin on earlier, better films – including RACE WITH THE DEVIL and, much more recently, Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST. That said, the closing scenes still offer a nostalgic call back to the marvellously remorseless conclusions of various memorable American and British occult horror movies of the 1970’s. And young Kelly acts his more experienced co-stars off the screen at any available opportunity.
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