Tuesday, 11 August 2015


In an entirely unsurprising revelation, I'm a big fan of Hitchcock. This may be the film equivalent of saying: 'I quite enjoy pizza' or: 'I prefer sunny days to cold, damp ones', but it's a point worth reiterating. I'd argue that Hitchcock is quite possibly the greatest filmmaker of all time and even today, 35 years after his death, his influence can be seen in the movie industry.
One director who has openly professed his love of Hitch's work is Les Mahoney, the man behind At Granny's House. So is the great man's work reflected in Mahoney's? Read on...

PS Bill Oberst Jr is in this flick. Yes, THAT Bill Oberst Jr, the man that would easily be the first inductee in the Hickey's House of Horrors' Hall of Fame, should such a thing exist. Is this another hit?


Dir: Les Mahoney
Starring: Glenda Morgan Brown, Rachel Alig, Les Mahoney, Laura Lee, Bill Oberst Jr.

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Elderly Marion Rogers (Glenda Morgan Brown) has recently experienced ill health and, following her husband's death, her impatient and loutish son decides to hire some live-in home-help so he can wash his hands of her. Eventually he settles on hiring the attractive but definitely rather creepy Rebecca (Alig).
At first Marion is mistrusting of the new guest in her home, but eventually the two warm to one another and Rebecca takes over the spacious cellar. In time Rebecca comes up with an idea to fully utilise the large and mostly empty house in which the two ladies are living — offering up the spare room via a website to people travelling through the small Midwest town. Marion is initially a little reluctant but, encouraged by her youthful and charming new friend, finally agrees and looks forward to meeting some interesting characters.
When the travellers start to arrive they prove a mixed lot, some are pleasant enough but others prove to be little more than rude, unpleasant ingrates. Rebecca is not the most stable of people and, when provoked, flies into a murderous rage to exact revenge on those who have offended her. Things continue in this way until the pair find their lives turned upside down when a couple, Linda (Lee) and Ted (Mahoney) arrive at the house. 
Instantly drawn to Ted, Rebecca sets about seducing the object of her affection... but there's an obstacle in the lovers' way and she talks Ted into helping her clear their path to happiness together.
But the new dynamic causes serious problems in the house. Marion feels pushed to one side by the presence of the boorish Ted who treats the house like his own. 
How will these tensions play out? How long can Rebecca's lethal games continue when tough and intelligent private detective Boarstag (Oberst) starts sniffing around? And just whose side is the dangerously deranged femme fatale really on?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): More thriller than horror movie, At Granny's House has plenty of positives going for it. Not least among these is the compelling story (written by director and star Mahoney) which is actually driven by interesting and complex characters. The storyline is decidedly Hitchcockian, boasting some tense and shockingly nasty moments, yet also offering a blacker than black vein of humour throughout. The plot has some cool twists and turns that certainly keep the audience's attention, but it is the fascinating central triangle (plus a couple of cool side characters) that really grip the viewer.
First let's talk about Alig's Rebecca. She's a wonderful cinematic creation, a black widow, sensuous and attractive (which is certainly not hindered by Alig's stunning looks) but also deeply unsettling and very creepy. She's certainly the most interesting character in the film and a lot of the plot's mystery comes from how this unpredictable force will react to the events around her.
However, this is far from a one-woman show. The classy Glenda Morgan Brown is a superb actress and offers a wonderfully nuanced performance. Her character takes quite the journey and delivers her fair share of standout moments. In fact, perhaps the only fault I could find is that she looks too youthful to require a live-in carer, but she utterly owns her role and is entirely believable. Bravo, ma'am.
The final part of the deadly triangle at the film's core is Mahoney. He's written a tight script, but can he deliver in front of the camera? The answer is a resounding yes. Channeling Josh Brolin at times, he makes for an exceptional leading man. At times unwitting victim at others cold and merciless sociopath, he is fascinating (if never even remotely sympathetic). His is a deplorable character and fits perfectly within the Hitchcockian structure of the story. He delivers his lines with aplomb and never lets the talented side around him down. This is excellent work.
However, the leads aren't the only ones to impress. Lee makes the most of her screentime as the maligned Mrs Steiner while the always fantastic Bill Oberst Jr shows his tough, heroic side as the hard-nosed detective. Boarstag's name is an anagram of Arbogast, the name of the PI in Hitchcock's Psycho, and the latter's influence is all too apparent. It was a joy to see Oberst in a badass role minus the usual psychosis that plays a part in his other toughguys. Scratched record time: 'Another hit, sir!'
So there's a good story and a superb cast, but how does the movie look? For the most part, it is pretty great. There are some wonderful camera angles deployed and the limited locations (the vast majority of the film takes place in an around the titular Granny's House) are used in such a way as to never feel samey or repetitive. Instead Mahoney cleverly uses this tight set to reinforce a sense of claustrophobia, especially when the home becomes even more crowded due to Ted's arrival.
That isn't to say that Mahoney's work is without flare — there is a jaw-dropping murder montage that shows plenty of pizzazz too. 
This touches on a key point — yes, At Granny's House is undoubtedly more thriller than horror flick, but much like classics such as The Birds, Frenzy and the aforementioned Psycho, this has some very strong horror elements. The murder scenes can be decidedly bloody, while the nightmarish conclusion brings Takashi Miike's shocking Audition (albeit somewhat toned down) to mind and is sure to linger in the mind long after the movie's end credits roll.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Despite my comments regarding the horror moments, if you are picking up At Granny's House for an out-and-out fright fest, you could be disappointed.
This is something of a throwback, a more cerebral offering than the regular, visceral slasher-splatter genre offerings. It takes its time to tell a story and while we do get some flesh and blood on display, that certainly isn't the point of this flick. Gorehounds would do well to seek their grue fix elsewhere.
As is so often the case with the titles I review here at Hickey's House of Horrors, this is a comparatively low budgeted indie flick. Unlike a lot of genre flicks that suffer when they attempt to overreach beyond their humble means, At Granny's House manages to keep itself grounded and never falls short. However, as fine an example of a low-budgeter as it is, it is still a little less-polished than the high-budget, big studio offerings you're likely to catch at your local cinema. If you're used to the gloss of Michael Bay blockbusters, lower your expectations and accept the lower production values on display here. Look past the surface, you'll be doing yourself an injustice if you don't.
Finally, I had a small problem with the story — in particular, the wraparound story. The film opens with a flash forward, then reveals exactly how the characters in question reached that point. I can sort of understand the reasoning, it opens the movie with a jolt that will then carry the audience through the quieter, slower-paced opening scenes until the shit hits the fan.
However, much as a similar story-telling device did with Matthew A. Brown's Julia, I can't help but feel that it robs the tale of a little of its punch, essentially revealing a shocking finale that could maybe have hit a little harder without the foreshadowing. Of course, this is very much a matter of personal preference, I can think of very few films in which spoiling the climax at the beginning boosted my enjoyment, and it certainly is not a deal-breaker. The ending still hits the spot, I just can't help but wonder whether it could have added tension to some other scenes and cranked up the shock finale if that opening sequence had been altered or axed all together.

THE VERDICT: I'll cut straight to the chase —I had a blast with At Granny's House! Mahoney and his team are clearly skilled filmmakers and, while this doesn't hit the heady heights of Hitchcock's masterpieces (but then again, what does?), as an homage to the work of the greatest thriller director of all time it is admirable. However, it is also so much more than that — it's a fabulous thriller in its own right. With a clever script, some fantastic camerawork and a top-notch cast, At Granny's House is a hit. Check it out.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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