BETE NOIR ABBATOIR
Main Cast: Nadine Velazquez, Callum Blue
Director: Craig Moss
Normy and I had a lovely day wandering the back streets of old Tijuana. I bought an exquisite figurine of a donkey in
a sombrero inscribed ‘Souvenir de Mexico’ which I shall give a place of honor in the blue parlor back at Casa Maine. I do try to strive for authenticity in decorating and am working hard to bring a touch of ‘olde California’ to each of the seventy-nine rooms in the house. It will complement the Conestoga wagon television lamp very nicely. I even teared up a bit when we ran across the little boite de nuit where I had some of my earliest successes as a singer. It has been rumored that my act involved a donkey of a different variety but that’s a vile slander, started by Magdalena Montezuma who began in show biz about the same time I did and who was working in a much tackier club several streets over. Rumor has it her act involved an alpaca named Pedro.
The return trip up the coast was uneventful until we hit maritime customs back at the marina. Apparently, there’s some sort of heightened security at the borders due to some strange goings on in national politics and I was forced to undergo heightened scrutiny. They were not happy that the name on my passport (Esther Blodgett – a name I left behind years ago) did not match the rest of my papers and the border patrol were flatly refusing to let me disembark and enter the United States. I sent Captain Drew off for my attorneys at Fajer and Hellmann, telling them to send representation post haste while I attempted to prove my identity by reenacting some of my more famous film moments on deck for a small flotilla of customs agents who had gathered around in various small watercraft.
Customs reached the conclusion that I was a female impersonator specializing in Vicki Lester. I was not amused. A quick call to Captain Drew revealed that he and the attorneys were stuck in traffic on the 405 so I was obviously going to have some time to kill before Normy and I could disembark. We left the border patrol to their arguments over the size of my thyroid cartilage (it is prominent but I can do wonders with shading using the contour collection from Lesterene brand beauty products) and returned to the lounge to enjoy a film in the interim. As we were going to be cooped up, we decided to throw caution to the winds, poured ourselves a couple of double Southern Comfort Manhattans and looked through the meager collection of films we had at our disposal. Our choice ended up being a cheap looking horror film entitled The Charnel House that someone had left in one of the guest baths after a particularly riotous bacchanal. Feeling we had nothing to lose, we popped it in.
The Charnel House is one of those horror thrillers made for quick sale to late night cable, streaming services and ten for five-dollar DVD sets. It has no stars, but reasonable journeymen actors you might have caught in something else and production values somewhere between bargain basement and poverty row studio. The film makers disguise their lack of funds by keeping most of the shoot within a single building located, if my read of the skyline is correct, in Cleveland Ohio. We are in the Fairmont – a former slaughterhouse cum meat packing plant which has been transformed into hip downtown living by developer Alex Reaves (Callum Blue of Dead Like Me). Gorgeous industrial loft apartments are quickly rented out to a bunch of hip young tenants including the Reaves family with jazzy mom Charlotte (Nadine Velazquez of My Name is Earl) and their slightly creepy daughter Mia (Makenzie Moss) who don’t seem to be the type to afford the rents that would have to be charged to cover the renovations and the cutting-edge technology controlling locks, climate and entertainment systems that have been installed throughout.
Of course, years ago, something happened in the slaughterhouse, something not very nice, involving a psycho butcher and his young son. One of the new tenants (Erik LaRay Harvey) is the son of one of the workers from the old slaughterhouse and is investigating what really happened. Then there’s the stuffy preservationist (Neil Thackaberry) who’s none too keen on some of the improvements made to the historic structure. Other tenants include a professional hockey player with a small yappy dog (Andy Favreau) and a driven young woman (Kate Linder) on whom the hockey player is sweet. Then there’s the angelic little blond boy in the red plaid shirt (Alden Tab) who may or may not actually exist. It’s a more interesting group of people than the horny college students in an isolated cabin that one usually finds in such films.
The script, by Emanuel Isler and Chad Israel, spends its first half setting up the characters and creating the building itself as a malevolent entity. The use of imagery from actual slaughterhouses and the underlying existential question of whether a place of suffering and death for non-human species can bleed over into the emotional lives and physical environments of people is raised and suggests that The Charnel House may actually be on track to be something more than a conventional ‘boo’ movie. Unfortunately, neither the writers nor director Craig Moss is smart enough to go down a different path and the second half of the film devolves into the usual picking off the cast one by one in not terribly inventive ways, a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo about body splitting that makes no sense whatsoever and a big reveal that comes twenty minutes too early and sucks all the tension out of the film’s climactic scenes.
The biggest problem is the lack of scares. I had hopes early on when a character has a nightmare full of images of cows being led to the slaughter (although some of the footage does look suspiciously like outtakes from my famous film Slaughterhouse Live!, the musical version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) but these quirky scenes, somewhat reminiscent of the video in The Ring, are later replaced with ominous sides of beef on meat hooks and the way they’re introduced and photographed is more risible than scary. By the time one of our main villains is taking a large butcher knife to a porterhouse to show his mental breakdown, I was having a fit of the giggles.
The performances are relatively decent. No one is bad, but no one particularly shines either. Nadine Velazquez as wife and mother trying to hold together a disintegrating family comes off the best. Here’s hoping she moves on to better representation and better projects. Callum Blue should dominate the film, he has the showiest part, but doesn’t quite make the impression that a stronger actor might have been able to make.
In the end, The Charnel House is not good, due to its pedestrian second half, but if it comes on late night, don’t feel compelled to switch it off.
Multiple defenestrations. Malfunctioning locks. Rooftop party. Dog walking. Ominous elevator. Gratuitous scary basement. Old news clippings. Split children.