Welcome back to our SyFy Channel review series, this time featuring another writing credit for Anthony C Ferrante, now much better known as the director of the “Sharknado” series. He’s been partially responsible for some of our favourite SyFy movies – “House Of Bones”, “Ghostquake” and “Leprechaun’s Revenge” – and provides a minor example of the odd business practices of low-budget producers. Of the films I listed above, two of them were also released under different titles (Ghostquake as “Haunted High”, Leprechaun’s Revenge as “Red Clover”) and so it is with tonight’s review, which has seen DVD release as “Paranormal Initiation”. I presume it’s to either save money or occasionally trick people into paying for the same movie twice and while it’s not unique to Ferrante’s oeuvre, it’s a puzzler.
Luckily, Ferrante’s lightly humourous touch is on display throughout this top-tier SyFy effort, although we start off with a nicely creepy bit as a girl in her early teens is shown in the aftermath of butchering her parents, smiling and singing a nursery rhyme. Flying forward through time to the present day minus a month, we’re in a sorority house where everyone just seems a little mean. Come on everyone, cheer up! Although I did discover that you have to pay to live in a sorority house (I assumed it was free) so lord knows why anyone wants to join one, ever. A girl who can’t mime playing the violin worth a damn is murdered by her violin teacher, then we go forward that last month and are in the present day.
The protagonist is Daria (Alessandra Torresani, “Caprica”, “The Big Bang Theory”), one of four new pledges to the Kappa sorority, who seems sort of bright and independent and I liked her immediately. We set our stall out early by having her and three other pledges strip to their underwear and go to a fraternity house to steal a 1900-era giant bear costume, which is sort of dumb, but it does introduce us to Daria’s love interest Lloyd, who’s quite good as that sort of character goes.
Anyway, “American Horror House” gets going quickly and never really lets up. People drop like flies, after a slightly quiet start, and it all seems to the fault of ghosts, with a link of some sort to the fake House Mother (really, just their landlady, as their old house burned down) Miss Margot, played by Morgan Fairchild. She’s obviously creepy as hell, but clearly has some law-and-order repelling powers, as the only person who shows up interested in the murders and disappearances is one solitary private investigator, who’s sort of rubbish at his job. So we’ve got the ghosts murdering people, the gradually dawning awareness in Daria and Lloyd, and the large party, organised by head of the sorority Colleen (a splendid performance from Jackie Tuttle, despite her looking far too old to be a college student).
The party is a really fun scene, with lots of well-sketched minor characters and performances, and plenty of murders too of course. It’s around here that I have to throw the brakes on recapping any more as revealing anything would give a few too many spoilers away. Suffice to say, it’s a surprisingly fun and interesting way of doing it, but I will ask one question which you can ponder throughout act 3 – why are all the ghosts evil, except that one time?
Sadly, there’s a couple of irrelevant subplots in there to push things to feature length – the sorority girl who paints and the psychic powers manifested by both Miss Margot and Daria (Margot says “you have the gift of sight” – er, shouldn’t that be second sight? I have the gift of sight, it’s not that special you know). Some scenes feel underwritten, like they knew what they wanted but forgot to think about the logic of it all – and, the ending is pretty bad, pulling off the sort of final reveal they do here is tricky, and some movies have managed it, but this one feels pretty weak.
Overall, I liked it a lot. Not perfect by any stretch, but a good sense of humour, a mostly decent pace, and lots of fine performances. This may sound like damning with faint praise, but these things are a long way from being a given when it comes to SyFy. I also realised while writing this that it’s probably an attempt to cash in on the TV series “American Horror Story”, the first season of which was set in a haunted house – but I didn’t watch that and you don’t need me pretending like I did. Anyway, this is a decent movie! Give it a go!
Rating: thumbs up