Tony Manders may not be a familiar name to most people, it wasn’t to me before I sat down to review Blood House, which he wrote and directed. But, apart from also writing and directing two previous features, Dark Corners and Death Follows, he’s racked up over eighty credits as an actor including several I’d seen such as The Young Cannibals and The Mermaid’s Curse. I’d even mentioned him in both of those reviews and the name still didn’t ring a bell. After watching Blood House it will, but probably not for the reason he’d like.
Back in ye olde times, Elizabeth Blood (Shirley Dodson) was burned as a witch. In modern times her house sits empty and abandoned. That is until a group of friends, Ben (John Fisher), his girlfriend Sarah (Maria Hiscock), Jade (Gemma Harlow Dean) her boyfriend Josh (Richard Wilde), Harry (Matthew Hemmings) and Alice (Meg Owlett) get stranded and need a place to spend the night.
Empty, cold and damp, the house doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of refuge until a previously empty cupboard suddenly provides enough sleeping bags and blankets for all of them. Then later restocks itself with food and drink. At this point, I would be leaving and in fairness to the script, several of the group voice the same opinion. But with the option being stumbling through dark, unfamiliar farmland it isn’t too hard for Ben to talk them out of it.
By this point, I had noticed something about Blood House. It has a weird look to it. Night scenes have an odd dark blue tint to them. This isn’t the usual underlit look that plagues low-budget films, they just look dark. This is off-colour, as though they were filmed during the day and were digitally darkened. The bluish tint comes and goes throughout the film, sometimes lighter, sometimes dark but always noticeable and annoying.
The next thing you notice is just how talky Blood House is. I get that it’s a microbudget film and didn’t have the budget for loads of effects, but six people standing around saying the same thing gets old quickly. There needed to be less repetitious dialogue or something to at least break it up.
When they wake up the next day their watches tell them they’ve slept for nineteen hours. And while they didn’t have any signal the night before, now they have no phones, they all vanished during the night. Worse, they can’t seem to leave, all the hallways bring them back to the room they slept in. But again we’re told it rather than shown it.
Characters go through a door, come back in from a different one and say what happened. The camera never follows them out of the room. Eventually, a ghost in a see-through nightie shows up to lure one of the guys to his doom and we finally get some action and effects. And then it’s back to the endless talking, which is now turning into constant bickering.
Blood House runs an hour and fifty minutes, and there’s no excuse for it. Trimming the unneeded and/or repetitive dialogue alone would have cut half an hour off the running time. And I really wish they had as there is the basis for an interesting haunted house film in the script but it’s drowned in a sea of talk. I think even the director got overwhelmed by all the dialogue he wrote, at one point a character says Elizabeth Blood cursed those who condemned her and all their ancestors.
Overlong and underdeveloped, Blood House is a prime example of how not to make a microbudget film. Manders needed to keep things short and the characters doing, not saying. Instead, they stand around and talk endlessly. The only way that can work is if you’ve written brilliant dialogue, and this isn’t.
You can check Blood House’s Facebook page for festivals it’s playing and any other screenings or release information.