Starring Lance Henriksen, Jason Cook, Valerie Azlynn
Directed by Dean Jones
Ah, those spooky old haunted house movies never seem to fail us, do they? With all the bells and whistles of opening and closing doors, shadowy figures crossing through the hallways, and the ever present creepy kid who is the only one that can communicate with the spectral invaders, giving the parents the illusion that their poor, well-adjusted child has finally taken the fruit-boat to looneytown, you can usually paint-by-numbers the exact pathway that these films will lead you along, normally to a lackluster conclusion that leaves you with that “alone on prom night” feeling… and yes, I was alone on prom night… twice.
While the aforementioned rant can be used as a template when checking out any one of the multitudinous celluloid shiver-fests that opts to call itself a “true shocker,” I was ready to plant the flag (yet again) into Dean Jones’ Dark Awakening, unwilling to compromise on a decidedly concrete opinion of this seemingly run-of-the-mill scare-fair. All of this was turning out just as I’d expected that is, until Mr. Jones offered a change-up in the middle of the movie, and saved this display from being tossed on the large pile of derivative films that had come before it. The story follows the happily-structured family unit of James and Jennifer Thomas (Cook and Azlynn), and their cute (yet ominously creepy) son Danny (William Pifer). When James receives a call one day to inform him of his mother’s passing, it’s time to pack up the family and head off to Mommy’s very spacious residence hours away to tie up all the loose ends after her funeral, and attempt to sell the house.
Here’s where my conscience was punching me in the ear-hole, loudly reminding me that this had already been done a million times before, and not before long, we’re subject to all of the prior instances I eluded to in the first paragraph of this review, and as an added bonus, we’re treated to a Rod Steiger-ish Amityville Horror-like appearance from Lance Henriksen as Father Donovan O’Malley, a more than intrusive padre that gives off the odd-illusion that he knows WAY more about this house than he’s letting on. As little Danny’s imaginary friend continues his streak of wreaking havoc inside the home, the pulling of the storyline begins, and the segue from spooky, haunted house film transfers into mystery about the disappearance of multiple children many years ago, and the potential cover-up of such heinous crimes – it’s nicely done, and provided a much-needed break from the typical route of travel in these types of movies.
While the presentation lacked in scares (aside from the eerie elderly folk in town that just love to stare at young Danny), the reformation of the story was the savior here – not all is what it appears to be with some characters, and the misdirection was a very welcome sight to see. I’ll have to knock this down a couple of pegs for its beaten-path approach for the first half of the film, but give it the due respect it deserves for the remainder. I couldn’t see this as one of those films you’d have on a continuous revolution inside your DVD player, but it definitely warrants a one-time watch -this “Awakening” certainly made me glad I kept my eyes open.