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Reviews Database > DVD REVIEWS (H) > HOUSE ON THE HILL (2012)
Published by David Carter on 2015/11/22 (503 reads)
Directed by Jeffrey Frentzen
Review by David Carter

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Released by MVD Visual
Running Time: 83 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Stereo English
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: None
Trailer Online: Yes

Open in new windowThe poor people of San Francisco have been terrorized by a number of high-profile murderers like the Zodiac Killer and Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. Perhaps the most chilling San Francisco serial killer story is one that the residents weren’t even aware of: Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. Unlike Zodiac and the Night Stalker, there were no headlines about Lake and Ng, and no massive police hunts. In fact, no one even knew there was a pair of sadistic killers on the loose until Lake was arrested for shoplifting. He wrote a full confession to his crimes at the station and promptly committed suicide to the shock and bewilderment of the police. Lake and Ng are believed to have killed as many as twenty-five people, most of who were kept as prisoners and sex slaves and had their torture and murder videotaped by the killers. Jeffrey Frentzen’s 2012 film HOUSE ON THE HILL is an adaptation of this shocking story and is now available on DVD from MVD Visual.

Open in new windowHOUSE ON THE HILL utilizes several different techniques to tell Lake and Ng’s story. The meat of the film is fictionalized reenactment of the crimes. These scenes are “fictionalized” in the sense that they don’t depict actual victims but characters similar to them – think of LAW & ORDER and their “ripped from the headlines” episodes and you’ve got the right idea. To continue that idea of a television cop show a bit further, HOUSE ON THE HILL presents a markedly toned-down version of the Lake and Ng murders. The more gruesome aspects of their crime are only implied, which gives the impression that director Frentzen was more concerned with relating this story rather than sensationalism. This is something of a double-edged sword. I feel it makes it a stronger film overall, but the likely many viewers expecting to see the more vicious aspects of the crimes (this is a horror film, after all) are going to disappointed. That said, though lacking in blood, guts, and flesh, HOUSE ON THE HILL is still a modern day roughie and the mean-spiritedness on display in many scenes is more disturbing than any special effect.

The most effective technique in HOUSE ON THE HILL is the use of footage from Lake’s notorious video diaries, particularly the footage of him describing his fantasies. This is by far the most frightening aspect of the film and one that makes it one of the stronger low-budget true crime films recently. On the other end of the spectrum is a framing story used to set up the reenactment portions. Told from the perspective of a non-existent survivor of Lake and Ng, the fact that this is created whole-cloth will rub those knowledgeable about the case the wrong way and actual serves to undercut the brutality of the crimes.

Open in new windowHOUSE ON THE HILL only attempts to scratch the surface of the crimes in the footage of real Lake speaking about them. The majority of the film is told from the perspective of the victims but, again, most of this is superficial documentation of the experience and not the psychological implications. I feel that Frentzen was attempting to put together a non-sensationalized film that placed the emphasis on the victims, rather than glorifying the killers as so often is the case with such films. This is an admirable approach, but one that is less effective due to the overall horror film look and feel here.
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