House of Fears (2007)

Blended families can be hard, especially on really hot spoiled step-sisters. Having a new step-mom who is the apple of your daddy’s eye can make you feel like you have to choose between being loyal to your real mom and supporting your dad’s need to get laid by someone who isn’t a middle-aged nag.

For dark-haired step-sister Hailey, this also manifests itself in being a mean girl to blonde-haired step-sister Sam. But if these two are going to be living together in the same house, going to the same school and attending the same parties, is there any way this relationship can be built into something approaching at least the barely legal version of Cold War detente? Enter the evil African statue!

Not since that Tiki-God that caused Greg Brady to almost die in a surfing accident way back in that special multi-part Hawaii vacation epic story arc on The Brady Bunch, has an ugly little stone doodad caused so much trouble for children with step-parents! But while Greg’s surfing career is cut short (and no doubt caused him to shift focus and pursue rock and roll stardom as Johnny Bravo), Hailey and Sam find that their battle with the creepy carving makes them besties. And it only took the vicious murder of four of their friends to do it. The experts will tell you that it usually takes at least 6 or 7 dead pals for that to happen!

Hailey and Sam’s road to reconciliation begins with a trip to the House of Fears, a local haunted house attraction their friend Zane works at. It’s not open to the public yet, so the people inside are a security guard, his dog and the African statue that the security guard unwisely took out of its shipping crate. There is a brief prologue in Africa that shows everyone who dug the idol up was killed somehow, so we know this is a stone cold killer stone!

In addition to Zane and the sisters, Hailey’s boyfriend Carter and another couple, Devon and Candace are part of the group touring the haunted house. As Zane explains before they begin, the House of Fears features exhibits designed to focus on nine specific fears such as fear of the dark, losing your mind, sharp knives, bats, spiders, ghosts and clowns.

Asking everyone what their fear is, he gets responses such as suffocation, claustrophobia and getting struck by lightning in the crotch. Sam doesn’t tell anyone yet about her fear but flashbacks to a menacing scarecrow she saw when she was a child clue us in that at some point a stuntman wearing a scarecrow costume will be beating her up and trying to kill her later in the film.

As the group travels deeper into the House of Fears, they begin to get picked off one by one. To their credit, after they discover their first friend murdered, they do attempt to call for help (the idol though is apparently disrupting their cell phone service) and recognize that they should attempt to escape the haunted house. Frustratingly though, they still manage to pull such teenage stalk and kill boners like tripping and falling while running and getting separated from each other resulting in more deaths.

The characters finally figure out that the idol is causing their fears to materialize for the purpose of killing them which causes Sam to reveal that her fear of scarecrows is as stupid as we originally thought. She found her farmer dad dead next to his tractor from something like a heart attack and when she looked around she saw a scarecrow up on post and I guess it looked really scary. And now she’s got a bad dose of Formidophobia! Just think how much more entertaining it would have been if she looked around and saw large pile of menacing cow manure instead.

House of Fears allowed me to face down my own petrifying fear I had as soon as I sat down to watch what I was sure to be 90 minutes of dull low budget amateur horror movie hell. While it settled in to a predictable groove of attacks and deaths with no twists or turns along the way, it was all handled quite professionally and paced well enough that it’s a solidly serviceable haunted house yarn.

First of all the prologue set in Africa made me think that this movie had a little bit of ambition by going the extra mile of shooting at a different location then the haunted House set were almost the whole movie took place and actually hiring a couple of people for parts they would only use for this scene. A lazier movie might have simply had some character receiving the package or just telling us about its checkered past.

Though there was nothing extraordinary about the characters, they weren’t horrible horror stereotypes and did not immediately annoy. This was certainly helped by a cast of unknowns who seemed as competent as any group of bigger name actors would’ve been in the roles. The actual House of Fears and its various scary rooms was decent looking and I was thinking I wouldn’t mind going to an attraction like that (minus all the killer knickknack of course).

The film falls down a bit on the whole “our fears are killing us” angle, especially since the House of Fears was advertised as addressing several fears only to have totally unrelated fears endanger the group. So we had scarecrows, drowning in sand and electrocution taking center stage while we never saw anything out of bats or spiders.

Also, if one character is going to have a dopey fear like scarecrows, do we really need another character to have an even dopier fear of clowns? And if someone was scared of being electrocuted does it really count if he got electrocuted accidentally during a fight? Does some of this stuff even qualify as a fear and not just simply terrible ways to die that no one would want to suffer from? And more importantly, how come nobody’s crotch got struck by lightning?

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