Starring Julie Benz, Fionnula Flannagan, Belle Shouse, Josh Stamberg, Toby Huss, Matt Lasky, Danielle Harris, Douglas Tait
Directed by Andrew C. Erin
Long, eerie hallways; dark, shadowy apartments; strange, cryptic tenants. Welcome to Havenhurst, the dour dwelling where folks check in but – you guessed it! – they don’t check out. I’ll admit I am a real sucker for horror films set in terrifying tenements: Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Crawlspace, The Sentinel, Inferno, The Shining, The Orphanage… you name it.
Perhaps this sub-genre of horror began even before there were movies. Tales of serial killer H.H. Holmes (aka “The Beast of Chicago”), who slew several unsuspecting souls during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, scared people out of their wits. Holmes lured a parade of victims into his elaborate “murder castle” (equipped with a gas chamber, dissection table, and a crematorium) by telling them it was a low-cost hotel for visitors to the world’s fair. Unfortunately, his guests did not survive his hospitality. (His story was documented in the book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which is soon to be a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.)
Our hospitable / hostile host in Havenhurst is Eleanor (Flannagan), an elegant, elderly lady who, in spite of her hard-and-fast rules, seems to truly care about her tenants. All she wants is for them to live a clean, sinless life. When Jackie (Benz) moves in, having just gotten out of rehab for alcoholism, she thinks Havenhurst will be the perfect halfway house for her. But her stay is marred from the beginning, as her friend, Danielle (Harris), has recently gone missing – or was she “evicted”? – from the Gothic high-rise under mysterious circumstances.
As Jackie struggles with the guilt of being responsible for her own daughter’s death and fighting the urge to return to the bottle, she finds herself immersed in the urge to find out what really happened to Danielle. She gets help from an NYC cop (Stamberg) and a young girl (Shouse) who lives in the apartment down the hall from her. As Jackie searches for answers, there is no shortage of carnage – a former prostitute, Paula St. Clair (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn), has a very memorable end, in particular.
As I tread lightly around spoiler-land, I just have to add that there are some gruesome scenes involving Douglas Tait and Matt Lasky, each towering and menacing figures but who are not exactly what they seem as brothers Jed and Ezra.
The story is strong, thanks to characters written with good backstories (director Andrew C. Erin co-wrote the script with producer Daniel Farrands), but what really sells the horror is the ambiance. The location, complemented by spooky cinematography (Thomas Hencz) and a score (tomandandy) that sizzles with suspense, is what really sells it. Havenhurst feels like an old-school horror film audiences would have seen in the 1970s.