Based on the true story of serial killers Leonard Lake and Charlie Ng, director Jeffery Frentzen (Black Dahlia) chronicles the speculated portions of Lake’s and Ng’s homicidal and psychopathic murders. Their murderous spree involved kidnapping young women, enslaving them, and eventually murdering them while also targeting their own relatives and friends, and even seizing the opportunities to abduct whole families. After Lake served in the Marine Corps, he met Charlie Ng and by the 1980s, the two men had constructed an isolated house where innocent people were brought to be tortured, ransomed, and eventually their demise at the hands of their materialistic and deviant captors.
“House on the Hill” is the Jeffery Frentzen directed and co-written with Nicole Marie Polec film that semi-documents the tragic events of Leonard Lake’s and Charlie Ng’s serial killing spree of the 1980s and incorporates actual footage of Leonard Lake speaking about his disturbing views on the world such as enslaving women and being prepared for the inevitable world apocalypse. Most of Frentzen’s movie is embellished as, like the majority of serial killer documentaries, most of what is unknown of Lake will never see the light of truth of what really happened on his ranch. The legend behind Lake and Ng states that there could have been as few as 11 murders or as high as 25; Frentzen attempts to showcase the latter by adding many fictional victims into his film to be representatives to those unknown victims who were never discovered or whose bones were severely untraceable.
However, some of the facts that are true, that we do know about Lake, didn’t quite make the cut because of Frentzen’s x, y, or z reasons. In the film, Lake’s wife is named Cat played by Rachel Devlin (Zombie Nation), but in reality Lake’s wife name was Claralyn Balazs aka “Cricket.” If Lake’s wife name is clear, why go with “Cat?” Also, Lake had constructed a bunker in the backyard of his ranch, but “House on the Hill” has a separate, well-locked shed in the backyard. Simultaneously, Frentzen’s movie has consistent filming errors that even the untrained eye can catch. Continuity glitches that are obvious (Naidra Dawn Thomson’s bra strap is in various positions between takes on a particular scene) and obvious props that are in more need of a convincing sell from the actors and to be well edited to not give the impression of false intentions. Lastly, the overly generic title doesn’t specifically speak much upon Leonard Lake and his accomplice Charlie Ng. “House on the Hill” title has no curb appeal and no real bite to entice viewership.
What I did find pleasurable about “House on the Hill” was the leads’ acting. Canadian actor Stephen A.F. Day and first feature film actor Sam Leung do an above mediocre performance of Leonard Lake and Charlie Ng. They manage to show and sell having no empathy when committing terrible acts, managing the ability to embody the evil within a killer on screen. Barring Frentzen’s epileptic editing and use of tints, lenses, and over exposers, I still was able to see the good in Day’s and Leung’s performances without the editing hoopla that attempted to make the events more dramatic, shocking, and traumatizing.
I’m a little disappointed in the distribution of this film. Not only does the jejune title leave a bleak taste, but the DVD cover doesn’t quite represent what is being sold here. On the cover, there is a dirt pathway leading up to a two story, mansion-like structure sitting on top of a hill and seemingly decayed and abandoned. On the DVD backside, a meathook pops right out at you along with a female victim strung up by her arms, screaming toward to the sky. Meathook does not make a credited or on screen appearance nor does the house in the film look like the mansion on the DVD cover. What is even more disappointing, and what I have to comes to term with every now and then, is the heavily edited cut in which “House on the Hill” was released. The DVD cover states, “Warning Explicit Content,” and does show some intense moments containing blood and torture with implied rape. ‘Some’ being the key word because I’ve seen more explicit content on the local evening news. This might be due in part of the post-production censorship which most noticeably focuses on covering up any and all nude scenes. Olivia Parrish’s topless scene was crudely censored by being blurred out and awkwardly cropped to show a low-resolution image, a forced zoom in, of her neck up as she’s being molested. The same cropping censorship goes against Laura Hofritcher’s topless scene as well during her torturous scene.
The North 40 Production film and MVD and ITN distribution DVD release doesn’t score to well for this reviewer. I’m able to look past the editing techniques, post-production effects, and unbalanced audio, but being a writer and a firm patron of freedom of speech, the censorship of the nudity and potentially the bloodletting has my blood boiling. However, even though Leonard Lake and Charlie Ng may have not been extensively covered on the silver screen or on entertainment television, I am glad Frentzen told partial of the notorious story and was able to tell his rendition of the unknown accounts.