Film Review: The Happy House

Wonderfully droll horror comedy with a memorably weird cast of characters.

“Leave, just leave!” How many times have you wanted to yell that at movie characters, from The Haunting to The Shining and beyond, who stay and stay in places that are obviously rife with evil spirits? Actually, in The Happy House, Wendy (Aya Cash) tries to do just that by fleeing the sinister B&B she has checked into, leaving behind her far more accommodating, infuriating husband Joe (Khan Baykal). But darned if her car doesn’t break down, bringing her back to this dread inn of iniquity.

Debut feature director/writer D.W. Young has created a puckishly diverting horror comedy, fully in the tradition of the great James Whale, who also loved to inject perversely unexpected humor into his chill factor. The final third, when the scares really set in, is the weakest part of the movie, but Young manages to sustain things overall with admirable poise and sneaky charm.

Young sketches an unlikely gallery of characters whom he clearly revels in and who are nearly as memorable as those in Whale’s deliriously twisted The Old Dark House. Besides feisty urbanite Wendy and terminally laid-back Joe, whose marriage is, unsurprisingly, on the rocks, there’s the dominating, purse-mouthed innkeeper Hildie (Marceline Hugot, quite magnificent), with her mingily doled out “best blueberry muffins in the world” (ubiquitous bane of all B&Bs) and her puritanical, endless book of rules forbidding swearing, spirits and basically anything resembling fun. The sole other guest is a Swedish lepidopterist bearing the immediately giggle-inducing name of Mr. Hverven (Oliver Henzler, nearly as droll as Christoph Waltz might have been in this role). And then there’s Hildie’s menacing hulk of an axe-wielding son, Skip (Mike Houston), and Linda (Kathleen McNenny), her blessedly irreverent sister.

This garrulously eccentric group—all of whom are eventually dumbfounded by the eventual turn of events—make for some amazingly agreeable company. After viewing The Happy House, however, one may seriously question any future notion of ever staying in one of those oh-so-“charming” roadside nooks filled with welcoming faces and the smell of freshly baked goodies in the air.