Into the Spookhouse with Harlow’s Haunt
Years ago, some friends and I went to a local haunted house. It was just our luck that when it was time for our time to enter, all of the costumed actors went on a collective “smoke break.” We walked through darkened hallways waiting for phantoms and ghoulies to pop up behind every corner, but nothing happened. The situation worked at first, keeping us in suspense for what could suddenly happen. Save one bit with a bed sheet ghost blowing hot air, we walked out with nary a scare to be had. A regional spook house plays a big part for the shot-on-video Harlow’s Haunt, in addition to other unfortunate similarities.
Harlow’s Haunt begins in the late 19th Century with a mother leading her young son through treacherous Florida swampland. She knocks at the door of a wizened old coot (John Dugan), who she says will provide them with safe refuge. Dugan’s most famous acting credit was as “Grandpa” in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), currently not needing the previous layers of makeup to play a decrepit aged pervert. Mom and her host then engage in a lengthy dialogue about how her husband fell into a life of alcohol and excess, before turning to a religious community who now wants her and her little boy dead. No explanation is offered as to why. Dugan hams it up gloriously with lots of ad libs in what is the best acting in the movie. This 20-minute-plus scene is told with two camera setups.
As fate would have it, Dugan is in cahoots with the cult and while the mom and her son slumber, one of the members slips a bag over the mother’s head and kills her bloodlessly by crushing her skull. “Mommy, no,” the little boy says.
We cut to modern day Florida and we meet two young couples out for a good time at a beachfront pavilion. One of the couples announces their engagement. A good deal of time is spent with the various characters saying how this will change their lives and the impact it will have on their relationships. Now, what does this have to do with the mother and the little boy being killed in the cabin at the beginning? IT DOESN’T.
The gang decides to check out a regional spook house later that night. Very much like this writer’s own experience, the characters walk through various plywood hallways where nothing happens. And then…. a sinister figure appears and makes short work out of the cast, there is a twist ending involving the mother and her son at the beginning that makes NO SENSE, and it’s suddenly over and done with.
Breaking down Harlow’s Haunt
On the positive side, the camera remains in focus. The actors are better than usual for this type of project, and it’s more technically adroit than similar projects. On the negative side … Whereas Skinamarink (2022) was able to convey an engaging 100-minute feature with a 20-minute plot, while struggles to fill 90 minutes with a five-minute plot.
It takes considerable effort to fill out a film to feature length. Horror films can usually get away with filling up their runtimes with scenes that add atmosphere or backstory, but this was not the case here. The film does have an interlude where the chief female character struts across the pavilion with a haughty, bored expression while a rock song plays in the background. This scene is well shot and features some admirable color photography. More throwaway scenes like this involving music, scenery and pretty welcome would have been welcome.
As it stands, the film offers very little to incentivize the viewer. It has no nudity, no sex, and the few gore scenes consist of just blood splattered on faces while the character’s scream loudly over the soundtrack.
The minimum requirement for moviemaking lies in either telling stories worth telling or sharing visuals worth viewing. The makers of Harlow’s Haunt should seriously consider both before picking up their cameras again.