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Eager to prove to her parents she is responsible and old enough to undertake the babysitting duties of her little brother all by herself, 16-year-old Miriam is reluctant to phone her parents when little brother Vince becomes highly feverish in fear that they will take away future responsibility opportunities. Instead, Miriam makes a late-night call to the family’s primary physician and begs for a discreet house call. Hours go by and Miriam becomes increasingly concerned about Vince, but when the doctor is found dead on her doorstep, her brother’s welfare acutely alters from his feverish illness to the maniacs outside looking to score big on the family home. The night turns into a fight for survival as the home alone siblings must outwit two murderous thieves who have their lustful eye on the teenage Miriam as well.
Based off the novella of the same title from horror writer Ty Schwamberger, “House Call” is the first Schwarmberger piece to be adapted and completed into a full-length feature film. The 2013 production’s script is adapted by Shannon Casto and while the credits list accompanying partner Michelle Henderson as the director, IMDB lists Casto as co-director the film. Both have worked alongside each other between 2005-2013 under their House, Texas-based independent film production company, Little Oak Film Group, which has churned out modest range of low-budget horror with “Sinner,” “Gut Instincts,” and “Protégé” to note as a select few. Their joined by Parrish Randall as the third wheel in the director’s chair, – again, a credit that IMDB list but the film doesn’t but wouldn’t surprise me knowing a little more history between the trio. “The Quick and the Undead”-starring and “Slaughter House”-directing Randall essentially helped segue Casto and Henderson into their own production company having the aspiring filmmaking duo under his wing in various crew and cast capacities as the owner of PRP Motion Pictures. The Little Oak Film Group cofounders serve as executive producers on this self-made, little-known home invasion, survival thriller.
Parrish Randall not only serves as co-director and provides the foundational support Casto and Henderson used to jumpstart their careers as filmmakers, but the platinum blond actor with dark facial hair from Groesbeck, Texas is also one of the lead principal characters, playing the nefariously nurtured John who has ambitions to live up to his mentor’s unfettered insanity and depravity. Randall evokes his lite version of Bill Mosely’s Otis Driftwood without the full support of the deranged family. There are inarguably many issues with how John is portrayed with an overflowing amount of dialogue despite Randall stealing the story with a magnetic presence on screen. John’s expositional to a fault and is continuously repeating the same dialogue over-and-over, such as pointing out and elucidating again-and-again that Rock is his mentor. Rock, played by Bill Dubois (“His Will Be Done”), features in a flashback of a cowardly John aiding and abetting Rock in the murder-robbery of a young couple and Rock is supposedly grooming pupil the way of psychopathy, but there really is not clear instruction from Rock other than provoke gun-drawn offices while your partner flees for his feared life. Now, after that character defining moment, John has become Rock incarnate and has also taken a student under his wing to invade, rob, rape, and murder in the family home of Miriam, played by Rachel Paul in her debut lead role, and Vince, played by Vincent Galyean. “House Call” deploys not only neighborhood disturbances but also disturbing undertones of the rape and murder of children as Miriam is 16 years old and Vince is ballpark 6-9 years of age. As kids under distress, tonal precision might not be Paul and Galyean strong suit, but their cues of delivery are on point where often times child actors tend to be forced or uncertain in conviction to sell the act. “House Call” rounds out the cast with James McCreight (“The Caretaker”), Troy Reynolds, Paul Moomey, Alison Esparza, Roger Dunn, Kristopher Smith, Chelsea Turcheck, Chi and the most experience and credited actor on set, Joe Grisaffi (“Doll Factory,” “Axe Murdering with Hackley”), as the creepy-glaring neighbor, Mr. Henderson, with the receding hair line and large hair.
While many issues come to the front of the mind regarding “House Call’s” poor longevity status, to be retained as a solid source of entertainment, and to be a total thrill at the edge of your seat home invasion horror film, the one major issue that egregiously needs mentioning is the lack stimulus surrounding John’s gut-stirring need to be as brutal as possible at this specific spot. Unlike Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers” where the masked intruders mark their presence as simply just because, “House Call” drops the ball on even the most basic of unscrupulous principles amongst the villains. In fact, the flash back with mentor Rock puts John into a completely different, greatly sympathetic, and concerned light without ever exhibiting that epiphany of realization into becoming the crime’s worst-of-the-worst. John also mentions on multiple occasions how the scoped-out house is full of the nicer things, but once we’re inside, it’s all upper-middle class, mediocre monied valuables that don’t justify the cause. An implied reason for John’s obsession for pillaging is to solely have his way with teenage Miriam who, in another over explained bit of exposition, saw her outside washing down the family roadster. What’s baffling about his Miriam anecdote is that we the scene played out live as in a flashback sans the moment John set eyes on Miriam. Instead, we’re treated to the introduction of creepy neighbor Mr. Hendersen who gives Miriam an up-and-down once over and the scene is definitely more piquant than John’s drive by but misses a crucial plot point that drives the story to the moment of John’s and his accomplice’s introduction. Perhaps, the flashback serves to misdirect Mr. Henderson’s sleaze toward a pre-judgy determination that flips the script later in the last act. “House Call” doesn’t quite nail where it wants to be emotionally with lightly peppered comedy, oversalted exposition, and a sepulchral tone of child rape and murder that yearns to break the surface of its under seasoned bake.
In what’s likely interchangeable functions between Michelle Henderson, Shannon Casto, and Parrish Randall to oversee this adapted film to completion, as aspect that can be easily assessed when seeing their names credited multiple times under various roles, one thing is for certain – “House Call” is the epitome of independent horror moviemaking spirit. It all culminates to this point, an at home DVD release that can now stretch across the global in a region free decoding format. Wild Eye Releasing, in association with TomCat Films, presents “House Call” onto an unrated DVD with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. A modern day, handheld SOV film, “House Call” crusts over with numerous blocks of noise interference, details are lost in the inferior resolution, the contrast between blacks and adjacent hues mesh together without firm delineation of objects, and the color palette, which is really the only thing good about the presentation’s lossy source material, has a handful of moments of vibrancy but for the most part is flat. The English language Stereo 2.0 audio mix has better integrity in reproduction. Slightly boxy through the two-channel output but dialogue remains clear and clean without crackling, popping, or hissing and has a meager but manageable, successful depth with no real range to note. Wild Eye’s standard releases normally go big on the bonus features and “House Call” is no exception to the route with only a handful of Wild Eye preview trailers of other films and I still applaud the distributor’s trailer creator because that craftsman (or craftswoman) can splice-to-sell a D-grade movie in under a minute. Release’s physical appearance comes in a standard black DVD snapper with a tenebrous cover art of a man silhouette front facing an every-room-lit stately manor and holding an axe by the side. A bit misleading but the gist of the story is there. Repeatability on the Ty Schwamberger adapted novella is time better served reading, or re-reading, the author’s original story as “House Call” is a 70-minute busy signal that will fail to connect with audiences.