or VHS: video house safari


For those just tuning in: what I'm doing in this series is heading down to the local video store and finding interesting movies I've never heard of. For younger readers, a "video store" is an establishment that you can walk or drive to and rent Video Home System cassettes, also known as VHS tapes, from an actual person and take it home for your own entertainment purposes (you gotta bring it back to the store when you're done, though.)

I'm basing my selections on the outrageous video boxes, the kind that helped us decide whether a movie looked like it was worth our time back in the days before the internet started telling us everything there is to know about every film before they're even released. Then I'm writing about my VHS safari.

It's not nostalgic - it's just awesome.

{the VIDEO ODDITIES index}

video oddity #14:

jag mundhra, 1987

Real estate options for characters in 80's horror movies must have been abysmal, based on the sketchy properties they end up purchasing. How else do you explain why so many families continued to respond to listings for 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY? Just ask George C. Scott if gorgeous Victorians in suburban Seattle were a bargain circa 1980. There had to have been some kind of legal loophole involved where sellers didn't have to disclose portals in the medicine cabinet or the kid's bedroom closet that tend to suck people into abstract ghost dimensions, prior to the home imploding on itself. Brokers probably didn't mind letting Barbara Hershey know about minor traces of lead-based paint as long as they weren't required to mention how she could look forward to being phantom-raped in her own kitchen. It all came to a head in 1988's Pulse, where typical glitches in the plumbing, wiring and foundation became demonized and actively tried to kill people. That was the last straw: starting with Child's Play (released later that year), horror movie characters opted to rent, living in apartments where they could deal with more external problems (like a serial killer living inside a doll without) having to worry if their fireplace was also out to get them.

But back in 1987, characters living in L.A. were still insisting on their giant Tudors and ultra-Californy Spanish Colonials, blood-stained bathtubs and all.

My choice for this week's Video Oddity was inspired by the fact that I became a homeowner for the first time at the end of last year. I sought this film out specifically based on my vague awareness of its "real estate horror movie" reputation, curious to see if it dealt with the real-life horrors of house hunting, loan applications, home inspections, fluctuating interest rates, state taxes, escrow, mountains of paperwork and the inevitable nightmare of broken floors and leaky windows the lucky new owners never could have anticipated but find themselves suddenly saddled with. Would this be a scary (scarier) version of The Money Pit? The video cover, with its depiction of a welcomingly ajar coffin-lid front door, suggested that the film would be told from the perspective of the buyer, which makes sense.* As detailed above, many a victim of haunted houses have barely unpacked their first box before it becomes horribly apparent that they got more than their contract stipulated.

Sadly, Open House does not deal with these issues. It's also not your "haunted house" or "demon-in-the-walls" variety of horror film, but rather a run-of-the-mill slasher from the mid-80's. Now, writing Video Oddities gives me conflicted feelings on mid-80's slasher movies. On the one hand, 99% of the films themselves are flat, artless dreck: lousy imitations that took what was special about the far superior work of visionary directors and turned it into hackneyed fodder, churned out to fill shelfspace for what quickly turned into an oversaturated market. Slashers became popular at the inception of home media; you could say it was the first and most prominent subgenre specifically created to meet the demands of this new method of distribution (Olsen Twin videos coming much later). Consequently, they were produced quickly and cheaply by crews with no interest beyond their budgets and deadlines and peopled with wooden actors whose headshots were rescued from the garbage bins of professional casting agencies. Anything genuinely original, interesting or weird about these titles were often a by-product of their economical productions.**

However, we here at Video Oddities Inc. love these kind of movies. Not so much the movies themselves, but their ingenious promotional materials. The video era birthed new and unexpected artforms: ornate video box cover designs, bizarre titles, clever taglines, bombastic trailers, the curious participation of an over-the-hill A-list star - in short, the very things that inspire this series. These are the reasons I keep returning to movies I've never heard anything about: to see if the product could possibly live up to the ostentatious presentation. I've already covered one, arguably two, slasher movies in this here series.*** Both of them where largely duds, but there's no denying that some crazy shit made its way into each of them, and I'd say the same is true for Open House.

The movie opens with a radio psychologist flippantly making paper airplanes from a fresh yellow legal pad while rather lamely counseling a caller who's been sexually abused by her father for years. I know, it's disgusting - I love yellow legal pads and can't believe he's wasting the paper like that. I am currently writing this very article on a yellow legal pad, barely controlling my penmanship as I stew and quiver with rage. If you insist on half-listening to a confused teenager as she details years of statutory rape by a family member, you should only make airplanes out of pages from an old magazine or, at worst, recycled computer paper (in the 80's you got really good texture with your print-out paper, perfect for molding airplanes, gliders, darts, those triangle footballs or any other kind of amateur origami). Squandering a full legal pad like that is irresponsibility tantamount to leaving a prime cut of Wagyu Ribeye out in the sun, or offering a scarred victim of sexual abuse textbook platitudes that result in her taking out a gun and blowing her head off on the air, as Dr. Legal Pad's patient does in the phone booth after offering the Christine Chubbuck-esque quip, "I think it's time to cut to a commercial..." - bam!

We all know that talk radio hosts in movies, from Eric Bogosian to Dolly Parton, harbor contempt for their callers and how such casual disdain leads to tragedy (in the cases of Bogosian or The Fisher King's Jeff Bridges.) This paper airplane prologue gets buried immediately as the narrative moves on to some gruesome killings at recently listed properties, strongly suggesting that the murderer will eventually be linked to this opening suicide. Several 80's slasher movies feature a cold opening with a violent incident that motivates a killing spree: the accidental death of a loved one (Stage Fright, Graduation Day, Sleepaway Camp) or suffering a similarly traumatic event as a youth (Happy Birthday to Me, Hollow Gate, Offerings, any Christmas-based slasher movie).****

Most reliable is the ol' Prank Gone Wrong, as seen in The Burning, Terror Train, Prom Night (Jamie Lee Curtis always found herself involved in Pranks Gone Wrong), Prom Night II, The House on Sorority Row, Slaughter High... the list is endless. So although it's not technically a prank, the self-inflicted gunshot death of Tracy, a teenage victim who feels she can't tell her friends about her relationship with her dad because it isn't exactly "recess gossip," is the kind of "goofin' around into an unexpected, catastrophic escalation" that sets up the resolution of these real estate slayings. The killer is probably Tracy's dad, insane with guilt and convinced that others are to blame for his daughter's suicide.

This theory is further substantiated when the radio shrink, David Kelly (sadly not played by David Patrick Kelly), starts receiving phone calls on his show Survival Line from Harry, a man claiming to be the sicko the newspapers have dubbed the "Open House Killer." This is the only fictional serial killer I can think of to take his name from the actual movie title. Think about it: no characters in their respective film refer to their stalker as "The Cruising Killer", or "The Manhunter Killer", or "The Element of Crime Killer", or "The Memories of Murder Killer", or "The I Saw the Devil Killer." But "O.H." lives up to his moniker by surprising female real estate agents ("uppity real estate bitches" as Harry calls them) inside empty houses and brutally dispatching them with such patchwork weapons as razor blades attached to the blunt end of a toilet plunger handle. His trademark is a creepy chuckle that sounds like a puppy whimpering. While this killing spree is in full swing, David just happens to be dating Adrienne Barbeau's Lisa Grant, head of Grant Realty in Beverly Hills.

David and Lisa have a strange little racket going where she calls into the radio station pretending to be lascivious southern housewife "Mary Lou", who flirts with David and offers "sex-gestions." This is a weird bit of role-playing between the two of them that culminates in a rendezvous at one of her company's swanky properties for some candlelit sex involving wine and carrots. (A note to the fellow gutter-minded: those who couldn't afford a copy of the out-of-print Swamp Thing DVD with the infamous Barbeau deleted scene will be happy to be treated to some side boob here.) David is strangely secretive about their romance, as though it's a given that radio psychologists and real estate executives naturally don't mix. I'm not exactly impressed by either of these protagonists: one was too busy making paper airplanes to save a suicidal teenager, the other apparently takes advantage of her position as manager of a real estate company to help herself to a client's condo whenever she feels like a little nookie. Based on how bad they are at stopping the killer, I'm surprised they're supposed to be the heroes.

The movie's true hero is Barney Resnick, Barbeau's rival real estate executive who is given at least three different "sleaze" themes throughout the movie. We're introduced to Resnick in his office and are asked to pre-judge him based on the contents of his work desk, which include:

- a dancing plastic penis (an opening close-up shot pans out to reveal a cackling Resnick)
- ketchup and mustard
- Pepto-Bismol
- empty beer cans
- a greasy hot plate
- a trophy of some kind (who are we kidding, it's gotta be for bowling, possibly first place at the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama)
- a stack of porno tapes
- an open briefcase (always sketchy)
- a globe of the world (to symbolize Resnick's ambition)
- and, on the wall in the background, a dartboard with Barbeau's picture taped on the bullseye (!)

Other evidence of Resnick's odiousness is just as subtle. He spanks random women on the behind, before informing them that they don't belong in the real estate business. As indicated by the dartboard, he's mainly out to get Barbeau, retrieving Grant Realty's listings from the garbage and sending cronies to trash the properties. He tells her that he's fed up with her "snotty-ass Beverly Hills crap" and she retorts with, "Resnick, when was the last time you so much as read the ingredients on a stick of deodorant?" This biting remark sets Resnick back a step, but it's not a very good one: I mean, most people don't take the time to read the ingredients on their deodorant (the only active ingredient in most deodorant sticks being an antipersperant agent). I'm sure some people do, but to just assume that perusing the back of the packaging is a natural thing that happens prior to applying the deodorant to one's armpits is curious logic. At any rate, we get it: Resnick smells bad. But Barbeau scores higher with the much simpler description of him as a "human phlegm-ball."

Part of me wants to give the movie credit for having this complicated real estate feud running concurrently alongside the serial killer subplot, but honestly it creates some unnecessary confusion. You see, we've got two different factions stalking Barbeau's properties: Resnick's goons (to trash the properties) and this Open House Killer (to trash the ladies trying to sell them). Very early in the film, we see somebody leafing through the trash to get Barbeau's seller listings - the ominous music suggests this is the killer (staking out the properties) but in the very next scene, Resnick's novelty penis is dancing on top of the listings that have apparently just been purloined by his flunky. So was it the killer or Resnick's guy stealing the listings? Whether or not the killer is even specifically targeting listings from Barbeau's company is left ambiguous.

Further confusion revolves around a can of dog food, which one of the realtors finds at one of the properties, surrounded by ants. Since this scene comes right after Resnick sends a stooge to sabotage one of Barbeau's houses, I just assumed this was their unique method of doing just that: the guy leaves an open can of dog food in the middle of the floor and presto, the place is infested with ants. Easy to do, doesn't involve any serious vandalism, practically untraceable - the perfect crime. However, it turns out dog food is the killer's personal cuisine. He squats at the houses and leaves the open cans lying around. It doesn't help that the dog food cans are generically-labeled, Repo Man-style, and look exactly like the generically-labeled beer cans that sit atop Resnick's desk. When the killer stalks Barbeau in one scene (so he is targeting her?), he drops what could be either a store-brand beer can or a store-brand dog food can into a fountain behind her...why he would even be walking around in public with either of those items is anyone's guess.

Wait a minute! The killer's just leaving open dog food cans at each crime scene? Did anyone think to fingerprint those cans? Probably not, because the man in charge of the investigation is this guy Shapiro, my second favorite character in the film. He is possibly the worst movie cop of all time. It's not that he's incompetent, like Barbeau and her boyfriend - he just acts like he doesn't give a shit. He sort of reminds me of Gary Cole's Sergeant Bosco on Bob's Burgers in that he just can't be bothered. For one thing, he doesn't seem to care much for realtors, opining that all they care about are their commissions, at one point muttering to himself: "To lust for money, all the world is prone." (Well yeah, that's their job. Do you get paid for your "policework", Shapiro?)

The killer is just hanging out in empty houses, waiting for the realtors to show up so he can murder them, and there seem to be multiple methods of catching him. How about sending some undercover cops to pose as realtors? Maybe stake out Barbeau's properties, if those are indeed the ones being targeted? (I know a trash can you can get a copy of the listings from.) Since there's evidence of the killer squatting at these places (the dog food), maybe some sort of surveillance or motion detector to let the police know he's there? Shapiro doesn't expend any amount of energy towards solving these murders beyond rolling his eyes when some mulleted, Coke-drinking cop at the crime scene tells him, "We got diddly."

Most hilariously/egregiously, Shapiro only follows up on his one big tip with the most vehement reluctance. His captain's wife, a fan of David's talk show, tells her husband about "Harry" phoning in to Survival Line and talking about how the women deserve what they got and are all uppity bitches who should die, etc. A pretty solid lead. But Shapiro is so convinced anything coming from some housewife is bullshit that he drags ass following up on it, and even tells the chief to his face that his wife's a busybody who should go back to her soaps and romance paperbacks for the drama fix she so clearly craves. So charmed was I by Shapiro's brazen cynicism, I honestly thought that "Harry" was a big red herring who would not turn out to be the killer; the fact that he is the killer (early spoiler!) makes Shapiro's inaction seem dangerously negligent in retrospect. He's arguably got the blood of at least half a dozen victims on his hands. I guess in that respect he's like David and his disregard for callers who genuinely need his help, so it's sort of hypocritical of Shapiro to throw the suicided girl in David's face in one scene (on the other hand, I'm glad someone did!)

Shapiro's not the only cop to drop the ball. At one point the killer has tied up a young, tanned real estate agent in a house and is getting ready to fry her with exposed electrical wires when a male-female police team ring the doorbell. They had wanted to check out the property but missed the open house. Although they notice the realtor's car left in the driveway, they quickly deduce that it must belong to the help ("With these people, even their maids drive Mercedes") and leave. So a lovely young realtor gets barbequed thanks to some meritless class indignation.

The other killings aren't quite as extravagant, but leading up to each crime the victims act very strangely. Prior to discovering the first body left in a bathtub, a racist realtor speaks condescendingly to a Japanese couple, referring to how much they'll love planting "origami" trees in the backyard (nice allusion to David's stupid paper airplanes, tho). A seller and potential buyer get slashed together in the next attack, but not before she makes eyes at him while disclosing that the house has such a good security system that it's "virtually impenetrable," to which he raises an eyebrow and responses, "Is that so?" They start to get it on, but are interrupted by the killer. Geez, these horndogs are gonna do it right there? Either she's an unscrupulous realtor who uses her client's homes for her strumpeting, or she's just willing to throw sex on the table if it will seal the deal. I'd say it's the latter, if she's following Barbeau's sense of ethics re: utilizing a client's home for the purpose of sexual congress. Either way, she's setting a bad precedent for realtors who just want to talk down to their Asian clients and don't know what a friggin' Bonsai tree is.

Next we have a newspaper headlining: "Open House Serial Killer Claims Fourth Victim." (Wait - fourth? Did I miss one? I suppose there could be one killing nobody mentions, except that later in the movie somebody says he's killed six people, which adds up correctly.) Certain precautions are proposed by the realty board, and agents are paired up to show houses. But fortuitously for the killer, the buddy system breaks down immediately when a male-female realtor couple who just happen to arrive at a house where the killer is hiding out split up, so he takes his sweet time murdering the lady and leaving her hanging in clear view from the front window (the male co-realtor who left her there ran off because his wife was having a baby - guessing that's not going to be a good memory for him).

I have to say, lurking around empty houses waiting for victims to arrive is some lazy ass serial killing. I realize this guy is just following the 80's slasher protocol of branching out from the standard camps and sororities and choosing another venue to terrorize. But unlike the killers who found their victims among the medical profession (Cardiac Arrest), the film industry (Effects, Revenge of the Boogeyman, Death by Dialogue), the music industry (Terror on Tour, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare), the music video industry (Blood Tracks), the phone sex operator industry (Out of the Dark), on Alcatraz (Slaughterhouse Rock), in ski resorts (Iced), gyms (Killer Workout), rest homes (Next of Kin), Miami's Nigerian community (Headhunter) and the union of antique pianos (The Demons of Ludlow), his slasher theme is decidedly lame.

The movie somewhat makes up for its killer’s lethargy with a weird bit of nonsense involving our hero Barney Resnick. Having not very smoothly allowed himself to be tricked by Barbeau into confessing that he sabotaged her properties in front of the licensing board, Resnick is next seen nervously meeting with a leather-clad lady in a giant house at night. She tosses a leash over his neck and leads him into the bedroom. I guess Barney's got his own arrangement to meet up for kinky sex at one of the properties his company represents. Unfortunately for him, O.H. turns up, kills him, leaves his severed head for his partner to find as she's skinny dipping in the pool, then horribly murders her as well. (The prerequisite swimming pool murder is another little staple of 80's slashers, found in Pieces, The Prowler and The Majorettes, not to mention the poor kid who gets pushed into the pool in Alligator. Sort of that decade's version of the Psycho shower scene I suppose.)

Wait a minute - after the double murder, the leather lady is described by a cop as the homeowner. What?? I mean sure, she did say "You want this listing, you play my game!" when she tethered Resnick, but I just assumed it was role playing. He's doing it for her? She's only giving him the listing if he joins her in a kinky sex game? That's why he was so nervous? I found this all pretty shocking: typically in this scenario, it's the guy who gets off on this shit (you know, like Leo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street) and besides, this is Barney Resnick! He's ogled and accosted every single female who's crossed his path! And you're telling me this hot S & M madam is into him?? That no money was exchanged for her service? That he's doing this against his will? There is some weird narrative disconnect here that I find befuddling.

At any rate, Resnick is officially scratched from the list of suspects (the characters’ list anyway; revealing him as the killer would have been the only thing weirder than making him the unwilling participant in kinky sex with an attractive, rich woman). So who is the Open House Killer? Is it a fellow real estate agent, a'la Jerry Blake from The Stepfather? (Or maybe Robert Durst?) Everyone's convinced it's "Survival Line" caller Harry, but they must be wrong, right?

As our man Shapiro points out, "There's two kinds of wackos: the safe wackos get on the horn and advertise their brain damage. The wackos we gotta worry about don't do it on the phone. They're too busy dicin' people up." Makes sense to me - why isn't the title of this movie "Shapiro"? But the chief offers: "Maybe there's a new kind of wacko who does both." And, bizarrely, he turns out to be correct.

Which brings me to another confusing scene, one that was obviously conceived to throw us off the scent of the actual killer, but just isn't handled very well. David gets a call on "Survival Line" from a guy named Carl, who we know is something of a gun nut from the way he's sitting in front of a table covered with assorted firearms and ammunition (this is a movie where scumbags are identified by what's on their table) and cleaning them throughout his phone conversation the same way David folds paper airplanes.

At this point, all we've been able to tell definitively about the Open House Killer is that he's a big imposing fat guy, and Carl fits the bill. We can't see his face, although he has his name tattooed on his arm so we know he's not hiding behind an alias. He rants prematurely about how they should gas the killer after he's caught and then reprimands David for pointing out that even a murderer has rights: "Let me ask you a question, Mr. Liberal. If this guy got a hold of your wife or your girlfriend, what would you do? Psycho-analyze him, or blow his brains out?" As confirmed later in the movie, this is some very unsubtle foreshadowing, but since it's presented the same way as the scenes with the killer it comes off as more than a little baffling that we never see or hear from Carl again.

The chief's wife was right - it is Harry, who's revealed to be a giant, bearded, bald, fat, dirty homeless guy who thinks he's making a political statement with his murder cycle. He somehow determines that real estate agents are the reason homes are "too damn expensive." Turns out he was squatting at a house - "Took real good care of it!" - until somebody bought it and he had to leave, a development he found unacceptable. So he blames the corporations for "owning everything" and decides the best way to send a message was to horribly murder real estate agents (and any clients who happen to stick around for impulsive sex with somebody they just met in a stranger's empty house).

So his situation is sort of similar to late-80's slasher movie The Carpenter, in which Wings Hauser is fried in the electric chair before he can complete his dream house but is so intent on finishing the job that he returns in ghost form to keep hanging around and kill anybody who gets in the way of him completing his home improvement. One might feel a tinge of sympathy for Harry's displaced transient as a victim of an unstable economy, if he wasn't voicing his frustration by mutilating, electrocuting, hanging and decapitating people.

So Shapiro relents and allows David and Barbeau to talk him into setting up a sting operation at the radio station, which of course backfires and allows Harry to nab Barbeau. Now back at the beginning of the movie when the idea was planted that maybe the killer was targeting Barbeau (possibly stealing her spreadsheet to choose houses to stalk and maybe following her around while polluting fountains with dog food cans), the logical conclusion was that he calls into Survival Line because he's aware that she and David are together (makes sense - he follows her when she goes jogging after their tryst in the empty house). But that theory's shot to hell when we find out Harry didn’t know the two of them were a couple; when he gets wind of the affair it sends him off the deep end. The man to whom he's been broadcasting his vitriol has been shacking up with a filthy real estate agent all along! You can't blame his paranoia for boiling over: that's quite a coincidence. I mean, what are the odds? It's like if Sirhan Sirhan had randomly met Ethel Kennedy at a malt shop and started talking about how much he hated presidential candidates.

But anyway Harry, who the cops determine too late is calling FROM INSIDE THE STATION! manages to make off with Barbeau while David is preoccupied with... folding paper airplanes again! With another legal pad! Will he never learn??*** ** Our feather-haired hero tries to enlist Shapiro into helping him, but Shapiro has gone from jaded to unreasonable and now believes the whole thing is a massive hoax concocted by the radio station. (Did they kill all those people as part of the gag??) David figures out that Harry took his lady to their little love nest condo and goes to confront him. Harry, disappointed that David didn't bring reporters to help deliver his message (he even bided his time killing Barbeau so he could primp for the camera), ends up being shot by Shapiro, who then looks at David and says, "Psycho-analyze THAT!" (Woah woah woah, did this movie just suddenly turn ultra-right wing? Because apparently Carl the Gun Nut was right all along and executing Harry was the right way to go. U.S.A.!)

I guess the script was clumsily trying to bring it back to the first scene, offering David redemption by having him use his radio shrink powers to get the killer to let go of Barbeau ("Trying to take old Harry with your fuckin' mouth, doc?") Because as it turns out the suicide girl had nothing to do with anything, except to serve David's arc to show that he's learned to use his psychologist powers to stop a tragedy from happening a second time. But he doesn't! Harry calls him out for trying that very thing! It's Shapiro who saves the day, and then makes fun of David for his wussiness. David is a failure, no question.

Open House has a few nice directorial florishes. A random group of realtors are watching a slide show of some "Bel Air beauties"; one of the slides of a house nicely transitions into the scene of the first crime. ("Now this one's a real winner!") There's also an effective moment where the killer picks up a kitty and strokes its fur (psycho killer juxtaposition). However, I have to take the director to task for one bizarre scene in which Barbeau wakes up at 1:45 in the morning, pulls out her briefcase, circles something and puts it back. This plays out very deliberately in real time and there is no pay off - we never find out what she's circling or why it's important, and it happens very late in the movie where every scene should really count. You think she's just come up with a scheme to catch Harry or something, but she doesn't do anything besides get kidnapped. Was there some sort of contractual obligation to put Barbeau onscreen for x amount of minutes and this was just padding it out? To make it worse, this scene is scored with a muzak version of "Sometimes When We Touch." This scene makes me want to close my eyes and hide.

or what i learned later

The only piece of trivia on Open House's IMDb page is that Adrienne Barbeau only agreed to star in the movie so she could pay her son's college tuition. I hate hearing shit like this. Is paying for her son's tuition not the same reason she did Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death? Blood River? Silk Degrees? Or fucking Grease on Broadway? Of course it is: she's a working actor for chrissake. Everything she does is for money to pay for things like food and clothes and health care and tuitions - it's her job! So don't get all Michael Caine on us, Barbeau. Just accept that not every movie can be Creepshow (which, I'm just guessing, she did not act in for free).

This was the American debut of Jag Mundhra, who'd made a couple movies in India and would go on to become one of the most successful directors of early 90's softcore thrillers. If you're of my generation and were a video store stalwart between the age of 12 and 16, you'll probably be able to instantly conjure the VHS covers of such classics as Night Eyes, Legal Tender, Last Call and L.A. Goddess just by hearing the titles. Mundhra returned to his home country at the turn of the century to direct classier but no less scintillating genre movies up until his death in 2011. Sadly, his dream project - a biopic of Italian-born Indian political leader Sonia Gandhi starring Monica Bellucci - stalled following protests from Gandhi's Congress Party and was never realized.

Mundhra returned to the serial killer-stalker well in 1995 with Tainted Love. It's another "theme" slasher film: the victims are models who all use the same health club. Based on Harry's motives in Open House, I'm guessing the whole thing started over something as petty as sweaty towels being left on the equipment. This time, the cops do come up with the idea of going undercover into the club to weed out the killer, but get this - the lead female detective is deemed "unfeminine" and has to go through a full makeover to make herself look more "model-esque." A full five years before Miss Congeniality.

I always assumed that Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower, who starred in Mundhra's Wild Cactus, L.A. Goddess, Sexual Malice, Improper Conduct (touted as "A THRILLER BASED ON A STORY OF 'SEXUAL HARASSMENT') and Irresistible Impulse was Mundhra's muse. But the same case could be made for Dena Drotar, who plays a groupie who approaches David in the bar in Open House (despite the fact that he's a radio personality she somehow recognizes him by the back of his head in a noisy bar). Drotar went on to appear in the director's Jigsaw Murders, Eyewitness to Murder, Last Call and popped up in Night Eyes as "Muffy Goldstein." Not many non-Jag roles came along, although she was in a short with the memorable title Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please?

Here's a strange Coen Brothers/Open House connection: Darwyn Swalve (Harry the killer) was a wrestler in the fake movie Devil on a Canvas in Barton Fink and Scott Baker (Joe Pearcy) was the "sci-fi movie hero" in A Serious Man. Makes me wonder if the Coens always mine genre movies for actors to play actors in their fake genre movies.

Cathryn Hartt, the realtor who discovers the first body (or second, if you believe the newspaper), is Morgan Fairchild's younger sister. She previously appeared in The Seduction with her big sis, but Open House was her last movie. These days, she runs a studio specializing in "Personalized Life Mentoring & Performance Coaching," which was personally endorsed by no less than Morgan Fairchild herself.

Mary Stavin, the blonde realtor who seduces her client before being hacked to pieces in the bathroom, was a Bond Girl: she allowed herself to be seduced by 56-year-old Roger Moore inside an iceberg-shaped submarine in the pre-title sequence of A View to a Kill. The movie cuts to the Duran Duran song before we find out if she's trying to sell 007 a house.

Actor Stephen Nemeth ("Tommy") ended up as a producer of movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Apparently he possesses the uncanny ability to recognize dog breeds, even cross breeds, just by looking at them. That must come in handy.

Co-producer Gabriella Belloni has had a varied career. She appeared in The Godfather Part II as the Ellis Island nurse who diagnoses young Vito Coreleone with polio. Then she was a music coordinator for Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. And she was a special effects coordinator on Oliver Stone's The Hand.

I guess if I decided I had a serious beef with the confusing aspects of Open House's intertwining stories I should really blame it on first-time screenwriter David Mickey Evans (credited by this full name in the credits, making him sound like a serial killer himself), future writer-director of The Sandlot and Ace Ventura, Jr. I've never been a fan of The Sandlot personally, and get really annoyed when people reference that stupid "killing me, Smalls" line (I got nothing against Ace Ventura, Jr.) At least he's probably a fan of the Parker books, since he borrowed the name "Resnick" for the movie's resident scumbag (he's not necessarily a Point Blank fan, since they changed the name to "Reese" for the movie).

The movie's two taglines are unexceptional. "People are just dying to get in!" implies that we're talking about a single home, as opposed to several, and the victims all die inside, making the line nonsensical. The other one is "Now it's open season for murder." Open season? Like, hunting? Just because "open house" and "open season" share a word, it doesn't mean they have any kind of instant connection. F-minus on the taglines.

John Ritter played a murderous real estate agent in the 2000 anthology horror film Terror Tract, the second segment of which pits Bryan Cranston against a killer monkey. And Michael Shannon memorably portrayed an amoral, not quite murderous real estate broker last year in 99 Homes. Of course none of the real estate people in Open House are themselves evil (Barney Resnick is more pathetic and incompetent than flat-out wicked) so I'm not really sure why I'm mentioning these things.

~ JUNE 15, 2016 ~
* It also gave me a great idea for decorating the door of my new house for our first Halloween there this fall.
** Not that the origins beyond these rare moments should always be so offhandedly dismissed. But that's a topic for a much longer discussion.
*** I guess you could count Mongrel, but I think it's technically a spoiler that Mongrel is a slasher movie and not a killer ghost dog movie. (P.S. *spoiler alert* for Mongrel.)
**** Or, if the filmmakers are feeling particularly lazy when it comes to ripping off John Carpenter's Halloween, the prologue of a madman who's institutionalized, disappears or is believed dead, then years later (the passage of time typically encapsulated by the opening credits) returns to kill again! Some examples: Boardinghouse, Sledgehammer, Blood Rage, Deadly Intruder, Mountaintop Motel Massacre, Return to Horror High.
*** ** What is it we’re supposed to take from this, that he just naturally folds paper airplanes while chatting with callers? Him doing it while speaking with the suicidal girl wasn’t meant to show that he was dangerously negligent with a “patient”? I legitimately don’t know what to make of this.