Stars: Jessica Sonneborn, Deborah Venegas, Kristina Page, Matt Aidan, Mike Wood, George Troester, Steven Richards | Written by Vito Trabucco, Chris Maltauro | Directed by Vito Trabucco
Even before they were popularised by Scream‘s slasher movie obsessive Randy, most of us were aware of the ‘rules’ of populating a horror movie. Don’t have sex. Don’t smoke weed. Don’t go off alone. And for heaven’s sake, stay away from Indian burial grounds. Lest we give Randy all the credit though, some horror movies have been giving away the rules for years – and in their title, no less.
Don’t Look Now, Don’t Go Near the Park, Don’t Hang Up, Don’t Go in the Woods, Don’t Open Till Christmas, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (a somewhat ironic title, that), Don’t Go To Sleep… this naming convention was (and is) popular enough to be lampooned by Edgar Wright in his faux Grindhouse trailer (sadly not a real thing) Don’t! And although it’s taken a dip in popularity since the 80s, it lives on with the likes of Don’t Breathe and, uh, Don’t Fuck in the Woods.
And now Never Open the Door, where the old meets the new. This is a cabin in the woods movie that, as you may have guessed from it being a cabin in the woods movie, is horror of the retro variety. That doesn’t just extend to the title and setting though; what sets it apart from the rest is that it’s all done in black and white, from the delightfully realised opening credits onwards. The title sells a grisly 80s’ style slasher horror, but the film itself aims more for the spookiness of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents (on which co-writer/producer Chris Maltauro actually worked as director).
Good vintage and intentions, then, but is Never Open the Door any good itself? The opening credits certainly get us off on the right foot, with an air of authenticity that could well fool some into thinking that they were watching the genuine article. It looks and sounds great, and a refreshing change of pace from the usual bad metal or dreary American rock which usually tends to accompany such low-budget efforts as this. Relish that feeling; it soon dissipates once the film starts properly.
No sooner are the opening credits over than we’re in familiar low-budget horror mode; all wobbly camerawork in the woods and bickering friends around a dinner table. The black and white visuals make the film look prettier than it otherwise should, but there’s no hiding the occasionally wooden acting of relative amateurs – and (badly handled) dialogue such as ‘what? I like cranberry sauce!’ does no-one any favours, either.
Still, we have seen far worse, and done with much less Artist-ry (geddit, because black and white). The only way, thankfully, is up, once the painful dinner table sequence is over and done with. From here, we’re gifted a mysterious visitor, quoting the film’s motto – “don’t open the door!” It’s not long before the group’s bickering turns into tying each other up and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
A cute homage to the classy horror days of old, Never Open the Door won’t be for everyone. It looks a treat and plays well to its inspirations, but this won’t convince many detractors of budget horror. The script, acting and (past the credits, anyway) music remain at the lower end of the scale, often to the film’s detriment. Its homage even extends to the runtime though, and at a scant 64 minutes, the whole thing is over before there’s time to get too annoyed. Once you get the dinner table bit out of the way, anyhow.
But it tries something new (relatively speaking, for a homage to 60s and 70s spook horror), and for this, Never Open the Door should be celebrated. Predictable closing line time: Never? Well, maybe just a peek!