The house at the center of the horror film “Dark House” is not just poorly illuminated — aren’t they always? — but also ill conceived. According to the wildly improbable screenplay, the ramshackle Southern plantation home around which this tale of demonic real estate revolves was swept off its foundation 23 years ago by a flood that deposited it, intact, several miles away. We’re talking brick front steps and all.
Most problematic, it retains its original cellar.
Exactly how this feat of supernatural engineering is possible is never explained. It is, however, essential to the story that there be a cellar, since that’s where people who make movies like this tend to put their bogeymen.
It isn’t fair to imply that the filmmakers have no imagination. If anything, the opposite is true. Best known for the “Jeepers Creepers” monster franchise — the first installment of which displayed at least a modicum of shivery goodness — director Victor Salva and his writing partner, Charles Agron, have packed a steamer trunk of crazy into this one project.
I wish I had been a fly on the wall during one of their brainstorming sessions. No idea, apparently, was discarded. There’s enough material here for five horror films.
The protagonist, Nick (Luke Kleintank), is a clairvoyant of sorts; he has the ability to foretell people’s violent ends just by touching them. When his mentally ill mother (Lesley-Anne Down) dies in a suspicious asylum fire, Nick is excited to learn that he has inherited the titular property, which he has been drawing pictures of for his entire life without knowing why. And why is he so excited? Not because he wants to live in this obviously haunted heap, but because he hopes it will hold clues to the identity of his father, whom he has never met.
Here’s a clue: When your mother is shown whispering to Daddy through the air vent in her loony-bin cell — and he whispers back — you don’t want to meet him.
The rest of the story is even nuttier. Nick, accompanied by his pregnant girlfriend, Eve (Alex McKenna), and best bud Ryan (Anthony Ray Perez), tracks down the errant fixer-upper, and they discover a creepy squatter, Seth (Tobin Bell of the “Saw” franchise). Seth, who doesn’t like visitors, commands a small army of ax-wielding henchmen in trench coats who lope around the grounds of the property in a knuckle-dragging gait that make them look like extras from the “Planet of the Apes” movies.
The film goes on, dredging up even more cliches about biblical, shape-shifting demons, paranormal progeny and the numerological significance of the number 23. That number also is featured prominently in Salva’s “Jeepers Creepers” films.
Salva certainly gets points for creative repurposing. Much of what transpires in “Dark House” has been seen before, just not all in the same movie.
At one point, Nick and company are run off the road by one of the “Deliverance”-style locals, played by screenwriter Agron. When Nick proposes that they spend the night in a house so inhospitable it makes “The Amityville Horror” look like “Downton Abbey,” Eve inadvertently asks a telling question: “How am I the only one that thinks this is a bad idea?”
Believe me, honey, you’re not.
R. At the AMC Hoffman Center. Contains violence, gore, obscenity and brief sensuality. 103 minutes.