Open House (1987)

It’s a slow day, which means I’m watching more from the bottom of the barrel.

Open House is a 1987 horror film of the slasher variety in which a string of real estate agents, mostly attractive women, end up getting murdered in a variety of horrible ways, and it’s up to a psychologist radio host and a jaded detective to figure out who the killer is before the radio host’s girlfriend, who runs a real estate agency, ends up on the chopping block. While Open House isn’t exactly what I’d consider a great movie, it’s got some chops to it that make it at least worth looking into if you find yourself in the awkward position of having to pick between the likes of this movie and, say, The Night Brings Charlie. PROTIP: Don’t pick The Night Brings Charlie. Don’t ever pick it.

There’s a touch of the old Italian giallo schlock fest with some of the killings in Open House, and one scene involving a long shot held on a woman who has been freshly hung with what appears to be a garden hose reminded me of the likes of Dario Argento’s 1970s output. Thankfully we’re not in full slasher mode here, so while some level of sexual deviancy does end up punished within the film, characters have sex without general repercussion, and the “final girl” trope doesn’t really hold sway. The final showdown is in fact between the hero radio therapist versus the murderer, a homeless man driven to kill first out of fear over losing the place he is squatting and then developing a taste for it. Yes, there is definitely a fixation on primarily targeting women and showing them in fear and peril, and while there is some amount of male nudity, the amount of female nudity or women in sexually suggestive clothing far outpaces the converse. But ultimately the central conflict is that of the have-not being reduced to violence and terror as a way of lashing out against a system that has not only left him behind but seems to flaunt that fact in his face. Did I mention this film is set in 1980s Beverly Hills?

Unfortunately the film’s final moments keep it from really going anywhere truly thought-provoking, as the homeless villain is reduced to just another slasher-style unkillable boogeyman, who somehow survives a bullet through the forehead (seriously, his brains are splattered on the ground beneath him) only to be thrown over a balcony (well…an obvious stuntman with way more hair is thrown over the balcony) to his demise while the upper class “heroes” return to their hedonistic lifestyles as if nothing had ever happened. Meanwhile, crime continues in the city. The boogeyman’s message has been lost and forgotten, and life continues on just the same as before. There’s a sense of inevitability to it as well as depressing familiarity; nothing changes, and all this murder and mayhem has merely disrupted a few lives but not impacted society in any meaningful way.

Not surprisingly, Open House was largely hated on release. Why? Well, it fails to completely fit the archetype of a slasher film, and it is pretty corny, not only with that ending but with some of the characters who are little more than stereotypes and do almost nothing to further the plot. In particular is a minor villain who runs a rival real estate agency and likes to engage in sexual harassment and general scummery. His grand contribution to the movie is to serve as a red herring to the main characters and little else; ultimately his deviancy is punished, and he becomes just another afterthought. There’s also a sheen to the film that just reeks of ’80s LA with money, something that rings both false and trashy. Nowadays the movie seems largely forgotten.

Did I mention Adrienne Barbeau is in this? I feel like maybe I should have said that first. That alone might get some folks to watch it.

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