Written by: Ted Geoghegan, Richard Griffin
Directed by: Ted Geoghegan
Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, and Lisa Marie
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
This house needs a family.
Lucio Fulciís commercial breakthrough came on the heels of Zombi 2, a film that was, of course, not a sequel to George Romeroís Dawn of the Dead. Still, this is part of the filmís (if not the directorís, or, hell, the entire Italian horror sceneís) legacy, and itís only fitting that the trend has come full circle with We Are Still Here, a film that feels like a long lost unofficial entry to Fulciís Gates of Hell trilogy. Watching it almost like witnessing all of those gates unleashed at once, as it conjures up the spirit from each film before spinning them into a cool throwback drenched in equal amounts of splatter and atmosphere.
As is the case with Fulciís best films, the best character here is the setting, and itís hard not to see the gorgeous but foreboding, secluded snow-covered Dagmar home without thinking of House by the Cemetery. Shrouded in the same woodsy desolation as the Freudenstein mansion, the turn-of-the-century manor broods ominously, as if itís waiting to consume its most recent inhabitants. Still reeling from the loss of their son Bobby, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) have moved to the rural haunt to escape from their grief only to discover that their home is full of restless spirits. Naturally, some especially malicious ones reside in the basement.
Director Ted Geoghegan indulges the typical haunted house routine by scattering fleeting, subtle glimpses among unsettling bumps in the night. Anne believes Bobbyís spirit is attempting to reach from beyond the grave, but a gruesome episode involving a handyman (shades of The Beyond) confirms that something wicked lurks within these walls. When the film gives up its ghost so early, itís clear that itís not exactly concerned with stringing audiences along with ambiguity: these unrested spirits are very real and very angry, and theyíve been simmering in this steamy, infernal basement for decades.
Some mystery remains to be preserved, however, and Geoghegan seems more invested in building the surrounding mythology. He does so through Dave and Cat McCabe, the Sacchettiís kooky neighbors (Monte Markham and Connie Neer) who regale the couple with macabre tales of the Dagmar houseís sordid history. As Cat practically trembles, Dave seems to take a perverse pleasure in revealing the exploits of the original tenants in this former funeral home; where she slips a note desperately imploring the Sacchettis to leave the house, he seems to hide sinister intentions. Likewise, locals greet the newcomers with suspicious side-eyes and seem a little too interested in their private conversations at a seedy little dive in town.
Geoghegan steeps the film in these furtive glances and half-whispered conversations, with a melancholy air hovering about to bolster the funereal tone. Anneís grief especially underpins We Are Still Here, and Crampton provides a human center for a film surrounded by ghosts and demons. Her desperation is quiet but palatable in both her tearful, restless nights and the glimmer of hope that washes over her face when she believes her son is reaching out to her. Lesser films would treat her character as hysterical; this one remains completely sympathetic and goes so far as to indulge her beliefs by having her hippie psychic friends (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) visit and conduct a sťance.
Doing so only unleashes complete hell, naturally, and the filmís blood-caked levies finally break during a protracted climax that doesnít pile up bodies so much as it eviscerates them. Torsos and heads explode as part of a demented, gore-soaked symphony where the torch-bearing villagers become grace notes in a wicked splatter showcase. Suddenly, Crampton finds herself in familiar surroundings, with blood, guts, and ghastly freak-outs galore; rather than have her cower, the film allows her to participate in the grisly bloodletting along with her co-stars (it should be noted that Fessenden is a perfect weirdo whose face is made for the sort of demonic contortions on display here). What was once a fireside tale whispered on a chilly, wintry night becomes a jaw-dropping exercise in Grand Guignol theatrics that plays out with a sense of style and directionóin the Fulci tradition, this isnít just random splatter but rather well-crafted storytelling whose violence is both a spectacle and a means to a very nasty end.
Granted, it doesnít quite reach the nightmarish, surreal style of its predecessors, but We Are Still Here is a worthy successor to the likes of Fulci and his ilk. Its morbid mythology, outlandish gore, and vintage 70s digs leave little doubts about its influences and make for a familiar blend thatís been grounded into a tidy New England folk tale. Thankfully, Geoghegan merely echoes those influences rather than simply karaoke them, as We Are Still Here is a homage that finds its own voice through rich storytelling and even richer visuals. Fittingly, itís a film that lingers like the best ghost stories: it draws you in with an irresistible hook, but, by the end, itís shoved the hook right into your eyeball.
Fulci once hinted at seven doors of death yet only revealed a few; with We Are Still Here, Geoghegan has at long last opened another one of the fabled gates to the netherworld, and the threshold is as gory and atmospheric as ever. Hell has rarely felt so comforting.
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