Back in April I had the privilege of being on set for a couple days of the much anticipated horror film Death House and I wanted to write about my experience. Being dubbed by media outlets as “The Expendables of Horror” because of its monstrous cast of horror icons is a fitting label, but it doesn't capture the feeling and essence of the film that I felt while witnessing it being made. The Expendables label feels like a gimmick, like a way to make money and cash in on a bunch of names. I'm here to tell you that Death House is much more than that.
My first impression of the production was how nice and polite everyone was. The cast and crew were extremely busy and always running around putting set pieces together or setting up cameras or ironing the outfits for the next scene to be filmed. Yet there was no tension, no arguing or lost tempers, just a well oiled machine full of people who each knew what role they played. It was a very confident atmosphere filled with a talented and hard working crew.
The next thing I noticed, being a horror fan, was the cast. The actors that were on set while I was there were Cortney Palm, Cody Longo, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Debbie Rochon, and Kane Hodder. Yeah. Can you imagine being able to watch these actors do there job on a movie set? I will admit I was a bit overwhelmed by this and quite starstruck. I sat next to Barbara Crampton for 45 minutes and watched Cortney, Cody, and Dee film a scene. I ran into Kane at the hotel the night he arrived and we chatted for a few minutes, a real nice guy. I watched the great Dee Wallace effortlessly deliver her lines perfectly and watched Debbie Rochon nail her scenes in one take and had a fantastic conversation with her about horror and Gunnar Hansen. Cody shook my hand and always said hello and I was a bit shy around Cortney out of fear of looking like a fanboy. Everyone was nice, down to Earth, and happy to be there. I didn't get photos with them as I didn't want to interfere with their work or be a bother. But the conversations, introductions, and handshakes are something I'll never forget.
As for the cast as their characters, all looked fantastic in their roles. Cody is the perfect hotshot Agent Novak and Kane is intimidating and spot on as Sieg, both came well prepared to show the nature of their characters. Dee and Barbara as Dr. Fletcher and Dr. Redmane are perfect cast choices. Dee plays the hardline, no nonsense Fletcher in a way that matches the photos of her in the film that you can see online. She's a wonderful actress and it was a joy to watch her act, and I was able to tell her that. Barbara is the more lighthearted Dr. Redmane and her youthful look coupled with her ability to act so naturally and distinctly with her eyes lead to a strong and layered performance. I was in awe watching Debbie Rochon (one of my favorite actresses) give an absolutely chilling performance! Watching her act was very special to me.
But seeing Cortney Palm as Agent Boon was probably the highlight of the characters for me, she is perfect for the role and embodies everything the character displays in the script. It's perfect casting and seeing her act in this role was very exciting. There are several scenes that she just nailed, whether it be the delivery of a line or the look on her face. Cortney Palm may not be a horror icon (yet) or the biggest name on the Death House IMDb page, but in my opinion she just may be the anchor of the whole cast. That's how strongly I believe in what I saw of her performance here.
As for writer/director Harrison Smith, I have to say the guy was a confident leader on set and well respected from the entire crew. He's open to suggestions from actors or crew, listens when someone raises a question about anything, and has a clear vision for what this film should look like, sound like, and feel like. I remember Cody Longo bringing up a concern he had for a scene and although it took him a few times to fully explain himself, Harrison listened patiently until he understood what Cody was saying. He also went out of his way to show me around and asked several times during my stay how I was doing. That's just how the set was, very thorough and very respectful. Smith is also a walking horror movie encyclopedia and has several horror Easter eggs for fans to pick up on and look out for. He truly intends for Death House to be a film made for horror fans. And they may need to see it more than once just to catch everything. Before filming one scene, Harrison got super excited about the lighting, saying it looked like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. That's the kind of detail you can expect from Death House and Harrison Smith is the perfect guy to lead the project.
The set design is incredibly detailed and well conceived. Featuring the quality of Cayo Industrial from Upstate NY, a highly praised haunted Halloween attraction. The set pieces are detailed and gritty when needed and complex and all in sync with each other for a seamless look. Also, the practical effects from PCND/FX and SOTA FX are extremely detailed and complicated creations. These guys take great pride in what they do and it shows. The processing chair that Kane Hodder as Sieg is subjected to is an elaborate sci-fi work of art and coupled with the lighting of the scene looked stunning on the monitors and in pictures, I can't wait to see it on the big screen.
I remember driving home from my time on set feeling very confident and excited about the outcome for Death House. I was highly impressed with the work ethic of the cast and crew and even more impressed that it all has translated into the film itself. Death House isn't a gimmicky who's who of horror, it isn't a cheap looking cash grab, and it isn't your average horror film. It's a smart script with perfect casting surrounded by a hard working, very talented crew and headed by a smart and passionate director who believes very strongly in Death House.
Horror fans should get excited.