Here it is December with at least half a dozen new Christmas horror flicks out there, and I’m still watching Halloween horror. But I was waiting for House of Purgatory for a while, and it only hit the market now, so there was no way I was waiting until next October to check it out.
Clocking in at a surprisingly short 75 minutes, House of Purgatory starts strong with Halloween atmosphere, taking us down an autumn street and into a house in which three teenage girls are carving pumpkins while chatting about boys—including one they think is gay.
The film has a classic late-90s teen horror feel, and the opening kill is wicked fun, so I was immediately drawn in.
Next, there’s a Halloween costume party, where talk turns to a rumored haunted attraction that is so terrifying that you get paid if you make it through every level. The film scores major point for giving us a group of main characters that is quite likeable.
It is so refreshing to watch a horror flick in which the teens aren’t a bunch of douche bags and all actually get along. As they sneak out of the party to hunt down the secret location of this haunted attraction, you actually fear what they might be getting themselves into.
But it’s not quite what you think. This isn’t a slasher with a psycho killer running rampant in a haunted house. This is psychological horror in which the kids end up facing their darkest secrets/fears – sort of like the film House of Fears, but this one is a lot darker. The place is in the middle of the woods, and there is no one there except a guy in skeleton makeup.
You’d never know it, but it’s actually Brian Krause, aka: Leo of Charmed. It’s quite unusual to have a known name in your indie horror flick then hide him under makeup so he’s unrecognizable.
House of Purgatory doesn’t dwell on or exploit the “haunted house” setting at all just for cheap scares. This is not the kind of “boo!” scares or gore galore Halloween flick you might expect and doesn’t have any kids scampering off to have sex, but strong performances and some dark themes keep you watching until the end.
After a short segment of the tour, it is established that something is definitely not right at this place, the kids witness signs of the real terrors that are specifically targeting each of them, and they begin getting involuntarily split up to confront their issues alone.
The film’s conclusion is extremely ambiguous and answers none of your questions. We’re never quite sure what actually happened to the kids, or why each was targeted. If this is a house of purgatory, does this mean the kids died somewhere along the way and have entered a dimension of suffering? Nothing in the film indicates that. Is it just a living purgatory that tempted them in and made them face their own sins? That interpretation would be a bit controversial, because some of the kids’ secrets reveal that they have been victims and are not actually guilty of anything.
The gay subject matter of the film is the perfect “for example.” The big secret one of the boys is dealing with is that he’s a closet case (the scene of him opening a locker to find it plastered in shots of man butts is kind of hot).
In the House of Purgatory, he is subjected to brutal and terrifying gay bashing. While I’d like to credit the film for taking on the horrors of what young gay people fear and experience, the message here is unclear. Is he in purgatory because he’s gay, and therefore being punished with torture? Is he being punished for lying to himself and to everyone around him and not just living as his true self? Or is Brian Krause just a total dick who wants to use everyone’s weaknesses to make them suffer? I guess it all depends on the moral compass of the individual viewer….