Studio: ITN Distribution
Director: Ben Demaree
Writer: Justin Hawkins, Jeff Miller
Producer: Jeff Miller
Stars: Mischa Barton, Tara Reid, Carly Schroeder, Mark Grossman, Grace Demarco, Derrick A. King, Tiffany Shepis, Justin Hawkins, Nathaniel Meek, Dee Wallace, Chris Mulkey
Cousins connected to a coven of witches awaken an evil warlock when they use a Ouija board inside a cursed family home.
Mischa Barton and Tara Reid I understand. They’ve been diminishing the value of their faded celebrity status for so long, their résumés no longer notice the addition of yet another direct-to-video disappointment.
But what in the world are Dee Wallace and Chris Mulkey doing in something like “Ouija House?” Has their management become so careless that they too are pockmarking respectable careers by swimming in the gutters of home video horror?
Let’s burn through this and move on as quickly as possible. That’s the same sentiment you’ll have if you end up involved with this film in any way, shape, or form.
Tara Reid only fills out the first five minutes of “Ouija House” by playing Dee Wallace’s character Katherine in a flashback. With blonde hair being the only physical feature they share in common, I snickered at the very idea of Tara Reid passing for a younger Dee Wallace. It turns out Wallace was 40 in 1988 when the prologue takes place, making it not entirely off-base for 42-year-old Reid to portray her earlier incarnation.
Katherine, her sister Claire (Tiffany Shepis in an even briefer appearance), and her boyfriend Tomas sneak into a remote family home we find out later has a curious connection to a coven of witches. This makes it one of the worst places possible to play with a Ouija board, which of course is precisely why the trio wants to do it. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that bad things happen next.
Fast forward to the present where Katherine’s daughter Laurie comes to help mom pack her things after two inexperienced actors playing bankers foreclose on Katherine’s house using stiffly delivered dialogue. Laurie’s plan to buy mom’s house back involves profits from publishing her upcoming thesis about “paranormal phenomenons” (sic). I can’t imagine what kind of niche science book involving supernatural studies could possibly make 1/1,000th of the money necessary to pay off what is probably a $350,000 mortgage on an L.A. area home, but that’s the least of the movie’s plentiful plot point oversights.
Even though Laurie’s research requires her to visit the other family home, which she weirdly refers to as a “cabin” despite it being a hilltop mansion, Katherine remains suspiciously adamant that Laurie must never go up there. If only Laurie heeded mom’s warning, the movie could mercifully end at the ten-minute mark and save everyone, particularly the audience, a whole lot of headaches.
Alas, Laurie heads to the isolated location with her boyfriend Nick, their friend Spence, and Spence’s girlfriend Tina. Laurie and company get greeted by Laurie’s cousin Samantha (Mischa Barton). Samantha’s sole purpose is to serve up exposition on a silver platter, which she immediately starts doing by recounting the house’s horrible history with a warlock who sought to open a dimensional doorway using the blood of sacrificed babies.
Although rough around the edges, conceptually this is not at all a bad foundation to lay for a horror film. Granted, we’re generally not treading into new territory when Ouija boards, witches, ignored warnings, and haunted houses in remote woods are involved. But these are good enough ingredients for getting straightforward fright film fare off the ground.
“Ouija House’s” problem involves putting its production together haphazardly. As indicated earlier, core issues with the script put larger concerns in play. But little things really add up to take a toll too.
Some of the cheaply cut corners include a painfully obvious bleached blonde wig on a rolling stunt person standing in for Tara Reid during the opening. Not only is the shot overlit to draw attention to the discrepancy, the film even repeats the sequence a second time during a flashback later on.
An awkwardly staged car crash fares just as poorly. Low-budget indies face this challenge regularly, though some still find creative ways to cut, shoot, and fake a semi-believable stunt when they can’t afford to damage a vehicle. Here, the sequence only uses a long shot where trees obscure the car, the sound of screeching tires, and a quick cut to an actor suddenly lurching forward. It’s almost as bad as the laughable “grar!” growled by a possessed person that sounds like a kindergartner doing an Incredible Hulk impression.
The script pointlessly adds side stories with no narrative payoff whatsoever. Characters repeatedly beat around a bush regarding something that happened between Nick and Tina. Eventually, we’re told they made out while drunk once. Despite assertions of the incident being water under the bridge, Laurie still treats Tina coolly and sends suspicious looks in Nick’s direction when she catches him eyeing Tina’s tight shorts. Will Nick and Tina’s casual flirting turn into a full-blown affair? Will Laurie find out? Or has she possibly been setting up the duo for something sinister all along? How about none of the above, as next to nothing ultimately comes of this died-on-the-vine tension between the four friends.
A moment arrives when Laurie muses about how anything can be a Ouija board. So she and Nick put the real one aside in favor of using a dry erase marker to draw letters on a wipe board. What? That’s possibly the dumbest way to connect the dot for moving to Tina deciding to draw a board on her own body.
I’ll give “Ouija House” credit for turning a human being into a board. I’ve never seen that before and honestly, revealing that the haunted house is actually a colossal Ouija board has novelty value too. Those points are immediately lost though, when the players use a stone as a planchette that the spirit slowly moves into Tina’s mouth and inexplicably, no one makes any motion to stop Tina from choking on it.
The sight of Chris Mulkey having to do a scene shirtless to simulate being disheveled makes me embarrassed for him. Plain chyron credits wouldn’t pass muster on cable access TV. The only way a certain someone’s death could be more cartoonish is if she had X’s drawn on her eyelids.
“Ouija House” isn’t a lazy movie as there is legitimate effort to be seen here and there on the screen. But it is a rushed production, and negligence rears its ugly head far more often in these woefully dopey details.
Standards for this level of B-movie don’t demand much to earn a passable grade on a bell curve. Even “Ouija House” should be capable of meeting the minimum criteria. With only a modest amount of additional elbow grease, flaws might have been forgivable. Instead, the film is simply forgettable.
Review Score: 30