The Occupant is a very lucky film. It was originally filmed as The Whooper Returns, a title that sounds like a spanking fetish film and conjuring up images of not quite so brutal Cenobites uttering lines like, “Your suffering won’t be legendary, but you still won’t be able to sit down for a week.”
In 1975 the Schepp family was driven from their house by the evil spirits that possessed it, chief among them, something called The Whooper. Their story was made into a movie, filmed in the house where it all allegedly happened. The Whooper died at the box office, only to find a following on home video. Now it’s 2016, and the Schepp siblings have been brought together by the death of their mother Dorothy (Julia Best Warner, After Hours Trading, Back for Good) and they can’t agree on what to do with the infamous, and now decrepit, house.
Frank Jr. (Rik Billock, Flesh Eater, The Barn) wants to sell it so he can retire, Theo (David Flick, Sudden Death, The Next Three Days) who wants to use it to keep the waterbed business Frank Sr.(Dylan Grunn, The Retreat, Lake Artifact) started from going under. Pete (Nathan Hollabaugh, Corpsing, The Last Witch Hunter), traumatized by the whole thing, plans to blow it up, and Teri (Caroline Nicolian) isn’t sure what would be best. Complicating all of this is Theo’s son Vincent (Owen Miller) who is obsessed with proving the house is haunted and Cathy Shingle (Megan Bolton) an equally obsessed fan who turns up claiming Dorothy left the house to her.
Writer/director Samuel Krebs, who also provided the film’s retro synth score, gets the audience into The Occupant with a local horror host and the authentic-looking opening minutes of the fictional film before pulling out of the TV and introducing us to the cast. It’s an amusing and fitting lead-in for a film that blurs the lines between illusion and reality.
The Occupant starts as a dysfunctional family drama that riffs off of the actual story of the Lutz family and the hoax behind The Amityville Horror right down to the father’s struggling business. Then it shifts into an actual horror film as strange events start occurring, apparently the work of The Whooper.
And then it suddenly becomes a meta film within a film. Or maybe that should be a film within a film within a film. as we keep seeing bits of the broadcast of The Whooper, its host delivering exposition like a Greek chorus. A home invasion story that shows the dark side of the comically obsessed fanboys and girls we see online. And reminds us that fan is indeed short for fanatic.
Krebs wisely keeps The Occupant’s running time to a short seventy-one minutes which doesn’t give it time to bog down or overcomplicate itself. And with everything going on the plot could easily have felt overstuffed, but we get just enough of each of the plot elements to make the story work. That’s not to say that The Occupants is without flaws.
Much of the film is very dark, to the point that in some scenes it’s hard to figure out what’s happening. It looks like it was shot with existing natural light, something that rarely works well, especially in a horror film. And while I was OK with it, the shift in tone between the film’s acts is noticeable and may throw some viewers off. And, while it’s not the filmmaker’s fault, if you’re expecting to see the creature on the poster you’re going to be very disappointed.
Despite that, The Occupant is an engaging and frequently surprising little film. I’d actually like to see Krebs go back and make The Whooper. Based on the snippets we see he certainly knows how to emulate the style of its times.
Devilworks will release The Occupant to Digital and VOD platforms on March 29th. You can check their website or the film’s Facebook page for more details If you’re looking for more of the same, you can consult FilmTagger.