The Halfway House

It’s a beautiful day to go jogging, unless (cue sinister music), you happen to be a cute girl passing a halfway house that’s got a monster in the basement.  Then, it’s not so nice, since you’re going to get abducted, stripped to your panties, chained down, and devoured.  Enter Larissa Morgan, a tough chick who’s not going to sit still as the police do nothing about her lost sis.  She goes undercover as a troubled girl.  Well, she shouldn’t have too many problems, only the sadistic nun, the spank-happy priest, the peeping handyman, the vicious lesbian gang, and the adoring lesbian “virgin.”  Oh, yes, let’s not forget the monster, the Necronomicon, and the possible end of the world.

It’s late night in the ’80s again, with this joyful homage to every type of exploitation cinema you can shake a tentacle at.  We’ve got nunspoitation, women in prison, splatter, rubber suit/puppet monsters, soft core (with a hefty dose of lesbian petting), S&M, school girls, and Lovecraftian Horror.  Any fan of non-mainstream film will find something to love.  Any fan of well made movies will find something to tolerate.  Yes, tolerate.

The Halfway House‘s low budget is evident, in the smack you on the head with a brick wrapped in green paper that reads “low budget” kind of evident.  Another $10,000 could have paid for a script doctor to give the first and second acts a once-over (and I’d have done it for less).  A few more dollars might have added another day or two to the shooting schedule, so the setups could have been more professional and the camera movements better planned.  Oh, and while I’m spending, lets pay a second script doctor to work on the first act dialog.  It’s pretty painful early on.  However, the lines improve toward the end when jokes are more prevalent, and poorly conceived mean-cop talk takes a backseat to, “You can’t destroy the world for your own selfish reasons.”  Now that’s horror-comedy dialog!

So, it’s not as good as it could have been, but there’s too much high quality schlock (dwell on that phrase for a while) to worry about what might have been.  One excellent use of the too limited cash was procuring the services of Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul).  A funny, sexy, and indescribably quirky cult marvel in the ’70s, she’s changed little with the years.  Woronov is an old hand at psychotically stern characters (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), and Sister Cecelia is one of her best.  Here’s cruelty that will make you smile.

The monster is all plastic and waving rubber on strings, but it has a certain charm to it.  And he’s a critter derived from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, which means he’s beyond the understanding of mere mortals, so who am I to say he looks silly?  The whole Lovecraftian plot is tacked on (our heroes accept that there are ancient gods ready to smoosh mankind quicker than the last teen style changed, which would have been fine if the humor had been played up), but who doesn’t love an emerging Old One.  It might be an awkward fit, but it works.

Since there are ancient dread gods running around, the Christian god is absent, which is amusing for a film set in a Catholic halfway house for troubled girls.  Of course there’s no philosophical statement in that.  You just don’t find too many people willing to argue that Great Cthulhu really does wait, dreaming, on the ocean floor.  Too bad.  I’ve had enough debates with Christians.  I’m sure a Cthulhu cultist would bring a new angle to the discussion.  Oh well.

But The Halfway House does take a few potshots at modern religion.  The Church can be let off the hook for Sister Cecelia’s odd behavior (she’s had a … bad time), but not so for Father Fogerty, the priest who keeps a sex doll in his wardrobe and enjoys spanking the young girls on their bare behinds as he cries out “The power of Christ compels you!”  If only that had been the way the line was used in The Exorcist.  He’s foolish and obsessed, and fits beautifully as a representative of Christianity.  He doesn’t care about what is important, doesn’t protect those under his care, doesn’t understand the world around him, and abuses his power.  But that doesn’t make the Church evil so much as stupid; it isn’t to be feared, but laughed at.  When Fogerty finds a topless girl chained on the floor for sacrifice, his first concern is that the girl has been allowed out after bed time.  There are no serious attacks on religion, but plenty of comical ones.

The religious ridicule is just part of the fun, and less important to the film than the graphic and hilarious lesbian lube scene, or the girls’ group shower (watched by the perverted handyman), or the sudden decapitation during sex.  Yup, good old sex and violence take precedence over meaning, though not over comedy.  However, at times, The Halfway House is strangely prudish.  Each girl has her top and skirt removed before being left for the monster.  Why?  Does the monster dislike the taste of cloth?  I can buy that, but then why are their panties left on?  Different flavoring?  The girls should either be left dressed or completely naked.  I kept wondering if someone connected to this film was actually concerned with the rating.  It is simple.  Semi-naked girl left as a sacrifice: exploitive and gratuitous.  Naked girl left as a sacrifice: exploitive but non-gratuitous.  I like my exploitative elements to slide nicely into the narrative.

The Halfway House could have been a classic camp romp with a bit more care and money.  But I guess you take your spankings where you can get them.