A spit and polish for old tropes makes Trevor Matthews’ horror Girl House a familiar but enjoyable stalk and slash ride with an appealing performance from Ali Cobrin.
The curious disproportion between gratuitous sex and exploitative violence in North American film appears full frontal in Trevor Matthews’ slasher Girl House. This glossy, modern take on the horror sub-genre popularised in the 1980s is satisfyingly slick, gory and titillating, giving the rusty tropes a spit and polish without stepping out of a structural comfort zone. But its promise of attractive young girls parading their assets in front of “creeps and losers” hiding behind their computer screens is largely of the PG-13 variety; a softcore dessert to a hardcore main course of severed heads and blood splatter.
While Girl House lacks the twists and turns of its more accomplished genre peers (apart from an amusing revelation about the “whorehouse” owner’s sexual predilection), it manages to pleasingly string together the component parts of a good suspenseful thriller while having fun with the clichés. This comes mainly in the form of creative slaughter and inventive use of the Big Brother-style surveillance motif to transform voyeurs into potential lifesavers.
The story revolves around Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin) who is suffering from “pre-porn star syndrome”, otherwise known as Attractive College Student In Need Of Money Turns To Doing “What She’d Be Doing Anyway” On Camera. She’s headhunted by a seedy entrepreneur promising riches in return for living in a house populated by a series of cameras feeding a subscription-based adult-only site. The rules are flexible: you only do what you’re comfortable with but the more popular you become to the website’s monkey spankers, the more money you potentially earn. Some of the house’s inhabitants are willing to go “all the way”, inviting blindfolded men to the mansion’s secret location, while others, like Kylie, prefer to develop online “friendships” with the added bonus of T&A.
You know what’s going to happen from the film’s opening sequence which depicts a chubby pre-teen bullied by a snotty girl eager to laugh at his pee-pee. This comes after a pre-credits quote from Ted Bundy basically advising us that if you love porn you’ll end up a lonely, sadistic basement-dweller with a hatred for women and the online handle Loverboy. Evoking memories of William Lustig’s Maniac (a genuine cinematic precursor to Matthews’ film) and obvious ode to John Carpenter’s Halloween and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Girl House prefers to steer itself along a well-worn path than deviate too far from it. But, amidst the carnage, there’s creative sparks to excite despite the overarching familiarity.
Matthews makes use of the surveillance cameras to create a film-within-a-film at times; there’s a neat moment involving the killer gate crashing an online chat and the usual fun you get with the exclamation: “watch out, he’s behind you”. The director also knows how to develop plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. I was particularly enamoured by his twist on the traditional sauna, which becomes a vehicle for cooking victims when the stalker gets his grips on the thermostat. Matthews also gets the most out of his cast with Cobrin shining in the role of “final girl”.
There’s flaws in the script, plausibility issues (an underwritten, tacked-on romance for one), and a lack of ambiguity around the killer which saps the film of any genuine, lingering scares. Yet, Girl House is a pleasing concoction of genre tropes conventionally strung together with the softcore teasing of attractive young women and the hardcore exploits of a bloodthirsty, mask-wearing psychopath on a doom-ridden rampage of murder. Genre fans might not find anything new, but they’ll probably find plenty to enjoy.