I’m not entirely sure when this became a thing, but at some point indie filmmakers decide to start tackling true crime stories, often times taking the found-footage approach. The idea always seems to create something raw and intense. Something that attempts to put the audience in the victim’s shoes. I don’t know who started this, but I wish they wouldn’t have. Almost 100% of the time these movies are bad and House On the Hill is no exception.
House On the Hill is the directorial debut from Jeff Frentzen and it very much feels like it. Co-written by Frentzen and Nicole Marie Polec, the film is based on the true story of serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. In the 1980’s Lake and Ng killed somewhere between 11-25 people at Lake’s home just outside San Francisco. The duo recorded some of their savage crimes and I would assume this is the reason that Frentzen went with the found-footage approach.
Before watching this movie I knew nothing about Leonard Lake or Charles Ng. As a viewer I was a blank canvas ready to learn about these two real life mad men. Unfortunately the movie taught me very little. Everything I know about these two I learned from Google shortly after the film was over. House On the Hill did offer the typical little bits of information that appear on that screen that we see in most true crime movies, but at best it was always a sentence or two. As far as what happened on screen, there was no story to speak of.
Lake and Ng would torture and rape some victim all while another victim videotaped the whole thing. Eventually they would kill them. This would repeat a few times until the film finally reached an appropriate running time for a feature film. In between the attacks we had some wrap around piece with one of the victims talking to a lawyer. And that’s it, a bunch of nothing.
Look when you’re making a movie based on actual events and real people, I don’t need the story to be 100% accurate. It can all be made up for all I care. I just want a good, interesting story. Why are Lake and Ng killing? What drove them to this place? How did they meet up? What is their purpose? What is their motivation? Maybe they don’t have any motivation. Maybe they’re just two lunatics killing to kill. If that is in fact the case, it’s the job of the filmmaker to convey that to the audience. That never happens in House On the Hill. It’s just two dudes killing and then being arrested. The end.
To make matters worse, none of the killing or torture scenes are entertaining. They’re hard to watch, but not because they’re too intense or violent. They’re just bad. It feels like a crime scene reenactment on America’s Most Wanted with a little nudity and lots of profanity thrown in to make it appear edgy. Oh, and it’s all set to horrible, generic rock music that is blaring. Why does this generic rock always make it into indie films? It’s awful.
The one positive with House On the Hill is that there is some actual footage of Leonard Lake. Apparently when he was captured some VHS tapes were found containing recordings of himself. The tapes just have Lake sitting on a recliner talking to the camera, delivering some sort of manifesto. This is actually pretty interesting. I would have much preferred a documentary about Lake using this footage and then information from police reports and so forth. That could have made for a good indie documentary on a real-life serial killer. Instead we get the found-footage disaster that is House On the Hill.
House On the Hill is available now on DVD in North America from MVD Entertainment Group.