“From A House On Willow Street” (2016) Directed by Alastair Orr. Starring Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan and Alastair Orr. A group of criminals kidnap the teenage daughter of a wealthy family, then must face their own worst fears when the girl begins manifesting deadly supernatural abilities. This South African horror flick was originally titled “A House On Willow Street” and it is also known as “The Demon on Willow Street.”
We open inside a burning house as a child’s dolls are consumed in flames. We hear a woman’s screams and Hazel (Sharni Vinson of “You’re Next”) snaps awake in bed, free of the inferno in her nightmare.
She’s a career criminal who works with her tech savvy stepbrother Mark, her lover Ade and Ade’s tough older cousin James. Together they’ve been casing a beautiful old house on suburban Willow Street, a house occupied by the Hudson family. The patriarch made his fortune in the jewelry business and is rumored to have a large stash of diamonds in a safe. The goal is to kidnap his teenage daughter Catherine and have Papa Hudson trade the gems for the kid.
After discussing the plan in their rusted-out abandoned factory lair, and stalking the family over the course of six weeks, the big night has arrived. The gang takes a very suspicious looking van to quiet Willow Street only to find the job just got a lot easier; the back door of the old house is unlocked and the alarm system switched off. In an upstairs hallway, Ade notices an odd portrait of Catherine hanging on the wall. And in the girl’s bedroom, he finds ancient symbols carved into the wood-paneled walls.
His intended prey rises up behind him, looking abused and sickly.
Catherine’s eyes are flecked with blood and there’s a gash on her face. Before she can flee, she is grabbed by James and hustled to the van. When the gang arrives at the factory, Catherine is fitted with a restraining collar attached to a chain and tied to a chair. Seeing the girl’s unhealthy pallor and signs of mistreatment, Hazel is puzzled.
“Something’s not right. It looks like we rescued her from that house.”
Mark watches the hostage from a bank of security monitors he set up, and stuck to the top of them is a photograph of his tragically deceased young daughter, Sarah. He uses a police scanner to see if the Hudson family has called the cops to report their daughter missing, but there’s nothing.
Almost immediately, the unsettling noises begin. Is something skittering around in the dark or is it just James’s imagination as he prowls the sublevels of the industrial complex?
He sees a female silhouette watching him from the gloom, but it vanishes in the light. As he turns to head back upstairs, we see the bloody corpse of a woman staring after him.
Hazel gets to know Catherine, who seems pretty unafraid.
“You should really let me go. It would be better for all of you.”
There’s a sadness to her tone which suggests she knows that everyone is doomed. Hazel tells her that her parents are criminals and that this is a form of revenge. The kidnappers make two attempts at shooting a ransom video, and the second time is the charm.
Afterwards, the footage is emailed to the Hudson family from a secure account.
Hazel calls the house to deliver the demands and direct the Hudsons to watch their daughter being threatened in the video as proof, but no one is picking up. And oddly, their cellphones have been disconnected. Hazel reluctantly asks James and Ade to return to the house on Willow Street and take a look.
No one is excited about the possibility of walking into a trap, but the men agree and head out.
Downstairs, Catherine casually rattles her neck chain and the factory loses power.
Hazel finds the girl out of her chair and sitting in the dark. As she goes about getting the lights back on, a hideous phantom emerges from the dark with black goo issuing from its shrieking mouth before suddenly vanishing.
Catherine elaborates on her earlier suggestion that she be released:
“You should really let me go, or you’re all gonna die tonight.”
She begins singing a strange song:
“At night he comes in my dreams, fills the night with taunting screams, I try to keep my eyes awake, my soul is not his to take, but he comes and won’t let me dream, all I do is scream and scream.”
Hazel is taken aback.
“How do you know that song? I used to sing that when I was a kid.”
“That’s not all I know. I also know why you kidnapped me. Why you chose me. But it’s not going to bring them back. I know that your parents died in that fire.”
Hazel retreats, leaving Catherine to her solitude. She is shaken by this connection to her dark past, and tears fall in private.
Up in the control room, Mark begins hearing a crying little girl.
At the Hudson house, James and Ade find a basket of rotting apples covered in flies on the kitchen table. They split up to take a closer look at the joint.
James hears a woman’s voice from the floorboards. Have the parents been hiding in the basement?
He descends the stairs to find a wooden chair with straps and a video camera sitting on it playing. The audio is of a woman speaking. He snags the camera and a bag of videos. And then he finds the rotting bodies of clergymen with gardening shears, nails and drills rammed through them.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, Ade also makes a bloody discovery of the Hudson parents. As he leaves, he notices the portrait of Catherine on the wall again. Now the photograph is of the girl in profile, not straight on. As he looks away briefly, it switches and Catherine’s image is facing the opposite direction.
Before he can sort this out, an obese corpse with blood pouring out of his mouth pops up. It’s bald and has a shard of glass through its face as it chases Ade down the hall before vanishing.
As Ade and James are reunited, we learn that there was a terrible car accident and Ade was driving. He placed the dying body of his obese passenger, Georgie, into the driver’s seat. And it looks like bloody old Georgie, who got a shard of windshield through his noggin, isn’t too happy.
Both men are thoroughly freaked out on the drive back to the hideout. Especially when Georgie shows up in the road and causes Ade to crash the van in the forest surrounding the factory.
Meanwhile, Mark follows the echoing cries of a child and gooey black footprints through the corridors. Predictably, he finds his deceased daughter Sarah waiting for him. And she’s not just a rotting corpse version of her former self. No, she’s something much more disturbing.
One look into her bulbous googly eyes and Mark opens fire.
Outside, James comes to in the totaled van and can’t find Ade, though the other man is right next to him. He escapes the crashed vehicle and is lured into the woods by the rotting specter of his brutally abusive mother. The ghost comes complete with a huge tentacle tongue covered in prickly barbs that she rams down James’s screaming throat.
We’re talking like three feet of tongue here, people, and it’s the dude’s own MOM giving him the hentai treatment. Yuck.
Ade wakes up and quickly locates James, who is vomiting white foam everywhere. They stagger back to the factory carrying the video camera and tapes from Willow Street. Inside, Hazel catches a haunting glimpse of her charred mother. The ghost is surrounded by sparks and embers from the blaze that killed her years before.
After leaving James in a restroom to throw up and flop around like a dying fish some more, Ade meets up with his accomplices and explains that the Hudson family didn’t answer their phone because they’re majorly dead. It’s time to watch some videos and get to the bottom of this.
In the first video, we see a happy and healthy looking Catherine in better times. She discovered an ancient sigil in the basement and found out about the long history of strange deaths in her family home.
The teenager then reveals a secret that Hazel would rather had stayed buried, and both Mark and Ade turn to their kidnapping partner in shock.
I’m gonna stop there to prevent major spoilage, and get into what works about the film and what doesn’t. Overall, it’s a stylish and engrossing supernatural horror, but a few nagging anchors keep this scarefest from being truly fantastic.
- Sharni Vinson makes Hazel a tough cookie with a chip on her shoulder, though we also see her sensitive side. I’m a fan, and she never disappoints.
- The bumpy, slimy demon tentacle tongues are gross.
- There’s a shotgun vs. demonic magic battle where a possessed person repels blasts from a 12-gauge and then a semiautomatic handgun. The CGI effects are fun as the shotgun pellets are incinerated and bullets spin in the air and zip back towards the shooter. Neo would be proud.
- The factory itself is a beautifully lit, evocative location. Sodium yellow and eerie green lighting reveal cracked and decaying walls and rusting vats. Industrial pipes stretch for miles. In terms of mood and maintaining visual clarity, the whole film has wonderful lighting design.
- There’s a flashback to a very unpleasant attempt at an exorcism that’s lots of fun.
At the center of the story is an ancient demon that has been destroying lives and manipulating innocent people for centuries. So why is it so dumb? Doesn’t time and experience breed wisdom? It makes some pretty slack-jawed decisions towards the end, which involves the villain literally standing around with its giant tongue waving around. That’s great, and if I had a long and ghastly tongue, I might show it off as well…but standing there posing is not the same thing as winning.
Win, you stupid demon!
The plot is very similar to the 2007 horror film “Whisper” with Michael Rooker. That film followed a group of kidnappers who abduct a young boy with demonic powers who makes them see and do terrible things.
There are several jump scares where a character will turn to suddenly find themselves faced by a cadaverous screaming phantom who immediately vanishes. Meh. I’ve seen it done hundreds of times prior and I’m over it. Now if the screaming thing had torn the victim’s head off, that would be another story. What’s the point of a harmless ghost?
Some of the dialogue is, well, bad.
“You know when you think a thought and you hear your own voice in your head? I’m not hearing my own voice anymore. It’s something else.”
Think a thought? I get what they meant, but there are a couple of instances in the film where a character (particularly Mark) would utter something that just fell flat.
There’s a subplot involving a character who shows up at the very end to help fight the demonic forces. It felt like a cheat to me, and I still don’t quite understand the mechanics of how it went down the way it did.
I don’t like last minute magical saves.
I do like when the survivors use their wits and cunning to destroy the Threat, but that’s not what happens here.
“From A House On Willow Street” is by no means a bad film, but it is flawed.
If you’re looking for a brutal and bloody slasher flick, stay away. There’s a very low body count in that the film is about possession, not murder and mutilation. Mood, tension and creepiness it has in spades. There are so many qualities I like about it that I can’t write it off as a failure.
It’s worth a look.