As it gets closer to Halloween, the urge to find movies that tie in to every horror buff’s favorite day of the year grows stronger. Over the past few seasons, there’s been a trend of films that take place in haunted attractions. This choice makes a lot of sense. If done well, filmmakers can recreate the feel of the season and there’s a primal terror to be found in “fake” scares done for entertainment turning all too real at the hands of maniacs. A few standout titles in this subgenre include the recent The Houses That October Built which includes footage from actual roadside haunt attractions and the cut above slasher The Fun House Massacre. Hell House LLC drew positive word of mouth on the festival circuit last year, though for some odd reason its distributor has chosen to release the film on November 1st, at the end of peak haunting season. I can’t help but recall Homer Simpson holding on to his shares of pumpkin commodities too long when I hear that one.
On the other end of the spectrum comes films like House of Purgatory. As you’re looking for something new to fire up this Halloween season, you might be tempted to give this “haunted house that knows the sins of the people who pass through it” a spin. Let me advise you right now, in the strongest and most certain terms, to avoid this title at all costs.
On Halloween night, four high school friends decide to seek out “The Purgatory House,” an attraction rumored to be so scary that patrons get a full refund if they can make it all the way through. After an aimless drive through the barren countryside, they stumble upon the ramshackle, tiny shed that’s purported to be the attraction. Despite being the only customers and car in sight, the foursome decide to take the challenge. Once they enter, the house preys on their most deep seated fears and secrets while manipulating time, space and location.
Before discussing the problematic themes of the film, we should look at the technical aspects of House of Purgatory. Even at a seventy five minute run time, four minutes of which are the closing credits, the movie feels like a chore to get through. It moves at a stagnant pace and includes a ten minute prologue that has no bearing on everything that follows it. Keeping the attraction empty of all patrons but our four main characters feels like a choice born out of stinginess, not as one that adds to the atmosphere or builds dramatic tension. It’s a choice that makes the film feel cheap and sad. The performances are ham fisted and exaggerated across the board. Every line feels like it’s being delivered for an after-school special or PSA. To sum up, The Purgatory House commits the sins of moving at a glacial pace, being devoid of scares while offering up no compelling characters to care about.
What sets House of Purgatory apart as a step below even the most mediocre of direct-to-video horror movies is the overt fear-mongering Christian messages writer and director Tyler Christensen pummels the viewer with throughout the movie. A closeted gay character is confronted with homoerotic images until he cringes with terror. Moments later a crowd hurls hateful slurs at him before beating him bloody and senseless. We’re less than six months removed from the Pulse shootings where close to fifty member of the LGBT community lost their lives for no other reason than being out and comfortable with their sexual orientation. The anti-choice sentiment which finds another young woman shamed then tortured for having an abortion exists in tandem with the gay bashing. A third character is menaced by her former sexual predator and there’s a none-too-subtle nudging towards the idea that the abuse is her fault. Characters utter homophobic slurs and slut shame young women for their costume choices in casual conversation with no pushback from anyone else. It’s the lack of a second voice to offset this kind of hate speech that tips Christensen’s hand. There’s a conservative bent that permeates the whole proceeding that transforms a clumsily executed film into something ugly.
There’s no shortage of great genre films to choose from this Halloween season. While horror can tread into murky moral waters, and by no means should it pull punches or water itself down to spare hurt feelings, no one should waste their time on this movie. From the intent to the execution, House of Purgatory hits all the wrong chords.