Sometimes there’s a thin line between terrifying and goofy. Dark House opens in a mental hospital, where 23-year-old Nick Di Santo (Luke Kleintank) is visiting his mother (poor Lesley-Anne Down, who’s been reduced to this). Mom tells Nick that the time has come to tell him the truth about his family, because the voice that talks to her from the heating vent says so. He rolls his eyes and leaves. Turns out there really is a voice talking to her from the heating vent, though, and the film proceeds to show several other people carrying on sober, demonic-tinged conversations while standing very close to the wall and looking down at the grate near the baseboard. Director Victor Salva tries very hard to make this seem creepy, but there’s just nothing about chatting with central heating that’s gonna prompt gooseflesh. It’s an inherently silly-looking concept—and it isn’t the film’s last, by any means, or even its most ridiculous.
When Mom gets killed in a fire (apparently started by her evil heating vent) shortly thereafter, Nick inherits the deed to a mysterious house in the middle of nowhere—one that he’s been drawing ever since he was a little kid, though he never knew it actually existed until now. Heading out there with his pregnant girlfriend, Eve (Alex McKenna), and his best friend, Ryan (Anthony Rey Perez), he finds that the house, which was supposedly destroyed in a flood decades earlier, somehow moved intact miles away to another location, where it’s now inhabited by a longhaired, hostile vagrant named Seth (Tobin Bell, from the Saw franchise). Nick also has a frightening gift/curse: When he touches people, he can see exactly how they’ll die, though only in cases where they’re destined to die violently. Soon, just about everybody he touches, including a group of land surveyors, prompts a grotesque vision. And while Nick can’t see when these deaths will occur, all evidence suggests that it’s probably going to be very soon.
Much of this mythology makes no damn sense. Nick refuses to touch Eve’s belly, for fear of learning how his future child will die… but is he planning to never touch the kid, for the rest of his life? That’ll be some swell parenting. Likewise, Seth and his small army of ax-wielding, hunchbacked hoboes have motives that prove ambiguous in daft ways, ultimately providing a plot twist at the expense of all logic. Even if it all cohered, however, the sight of several bad actors running for their lives from a group of shabbily dressed men loping after them sideways on all fours like gorillas is more likely to inspire laughter than screams. In a new low for the 21st-century horror movie, Ryan finds that his cell phone can’t make calls way out here in the woods (naturally)—but it somehow can surf the Internet, allowing him to Google crucial information. Even Salva’s formal chops, which somewhat redeemed the idiocy of Jeepers Creepers a decade ago, seem to have abandoned him, as he’s now prone to cheesy moments like cutting from an ax being buried in someone’s head to Eve jumping as she feels her unborn baby kick. You don’t need prophetic powers to see that Dark House is dead on arrival.