Saturday 22 June 2024

Shudder Saturday: Houseboat Horror (1989)

I've said it before and I'll say it again . . . we live in truly wonderful times for film fans. Many films remain obscure, or almost wiped from existence, but so many films are even more easily available now than they were upon first release. You can get yourself comfortable at home, line up your favourite snacks and beverages, and plan time to watch either a film that has just left, or is sometimes still in, cinema screens, a golden oldie classic, and everything in between. Houseboat Horror comes in the "everything in between" category. It's a shot on video slasher movie that I probably would never have seen if it hadn't now been available on one of my many online streaming services. 

The plot is as simple as you'd expect it to be. A group of people end up in a fairly isolated location, somewhere that makes them more likely to be targeted by a vicious killer. It helps that the main characters are a bunch of rock musicians and the crew filming their music video, which creates instant tension with any locals that they encounter, and also allows viewers to look forward to all of the expected death scenes.

I'm not going to tell people that Houseboat Horror is a great film. It's not even a great slasher film. It doesn't seem too bad, however, when you consider the wild variations in quality that can be found in the world of SOV horror. Despite being far from an expert in these films, I already know some of the most notorious titles, and I know how much of an endurance test they can be. They're also a testament to the passion and determination of many film-makers though, and the best SOV movies still have something running through them that shows the good intentions buried underneath the messy final product. Houseboat Horror is one of those movies, and I spent the duration of it rooting for directors Kendal Flanagan and Ollie Martin to fully win me over. That never happened, largely due to the weak screenplay by Martin (and, yes, I am aware of how many slasher movies have a weak screenplay), but a couple of moments showed a level of care and technical proficiency that I hadn't expected. 

It also doesn't help that the cast are a bit amateurish and clumsy, by and large. I am not going to spend too much time and space being overly critical of people who banded together to have some fun and get this made, but it's unsurprising to see that many of these cast members didn't go on to have lengthy and illustrious film careers, with Alan Dale, despite not being on top form, being the one notable exception. How he ended up in this is a mystery, and I'd love to hear from anyone who has that information, but he helps to lift things slightly just by being a recognisable face of someone you know has acted in more professional projects.

I liked this. It was endearing. The many flaws all worked to highlight just how much was stacked against Flanagan and Martin as they worked to get this made. It's a mess, and there are many scenes that are just disappointingly dull (a common failing of many SOV horror movies), and there's also an ending that lacks any tension whatsoever, but I still found myself smiling as the end credits rolled. I would watch it again. I'd recommend it to those looking for something to fan the flames of their nostalgia for the days of VHS, or to those looking for something undemanding that can be enjoyed in a group viewing. But I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for something remotely serious or well-crafted.


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