Saturday, May 13, 2017

Triskaidekaphilia: '8213: Gacy House' (2010)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Produced by "mockbuster" factory The Asylum, found-footage cheapie 8213: Gacy House was released to capitalize on the success of the Paranormal Activity movies, although its plot more closely resembles The Blair Witch Project. Also known as Paranormal Entity 2 (although it has nothing to do with The Asylum's previous found-footage movie Paranormal Entity), Gacy House follows a team of ghost hunters as they spend a night in the home of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, hoping to summon his ghost (the number in the title refers to the address). Actually, strike that -- as the opening text indicates, Gacy's actual house was demolished following his arrest, with another house built on the same site three years later (which isn't quite what happened in real life). So the characters are actually spending the night in a house built on the same spot where Gacy's house once stood, although that doesn't stop them from constantly referring to the (abandoned, yet inexplicably well-furnished) house as Gacy's home.

That's just one of the sloppy elements of this slapdash movie, which like most Asylum productions is more focused on getting things done quickly and cheaply than any sort of quality control. The characters have supposedly been traveling around the country, invoking spirits at the homes of various notorious serial killers, but their ghost-hunting methods are as careless as the filmmaking, and they seem surprised to somehow be encountering dangerous phenomena at Gacy's house, despite that being the entire point of their project. Writer-director Anthony Fankhauser uses reality TV-style confessionals to fill in some of the details and rudimentary character backgrounds, but it's never quite clear when the characters are recording these interviews, or why they bother to continue to record them as they are being terrorized by an evil spirit.

Most of that terrorizing involves budget-friendly things like slamming doors and flickering lights, and the movie is dull and relatively uneventful until the very end, when Gacy's ghost (or whatever) starts flinging people around and killing them (mainly offscreen, though). This is an exploitation B-movie, so Fankhauser also finds room for a sex scene (for some reason two of the characters have no qualms about getting naked and doing it right in the middle of their ghost-hunting expedition), and the psychic hired by the crew is played by busty softcore regular Diana Terranova, whose top is conveniently torn off by the ghost in the final chaos. The acting overall is not that bad, though, and better than what I've seen in a number of other Asylum productions. Presumably the actors had to improvise a lot, given the found-footage approach, and they handle it better than expected.

The biggest misstep, really, is the connection to John Wayne Gacy, which at best is sloppy and at worst is mildly offensive. There's really no reason this couldn't have been about a fictional serial killer, since nothing about the way the characters are attacked really depends on Gacy's background. It's established even within the world of the movie that this is not actually Gacy's house (despite what the characters say), and the only specific evocation of Gacy's real crimes is a distasteful scene in which the psychic attempts to summon Gacy's spirit by offering him a T-shirt worn by her underage neighbor, since Gacy was known for murdering teenage boys. It's one tasteless moment in a movie that's otherwise entirely bland, and if Fankhauser wasn't going to aim for all-out shock value, he might as well have left it alone. Of course, without it, even the tiny amount of uniqueness in this generic cash-in would be gone.

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