Monday, September 12, 2022

“I Plan on Eliminating the Middleman” - The Halfway House (2005) - Film #237

As a change of pace, let us discuss a movie from 2005 -- the light-hearted Lovecraftian exploitation film The Halfway House, directed by special effects veteran Kenneth J. Hall (who also directed the classic Evil Spawn from 1987 and Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout from 1990). Enhanced with practical monster effects and copious nudity, this monster movie is an effective throwback to the esthetics of the 1980s.

Unfortunately, not all your universe's critics appreciate The Halfway House. For example, reviewer The_Dead_See writes, "What I got instead was a horrendously boring screenplay, with very little in the way of either horror or humour. If you think you're going to get any gore in this release, think again." Reviewer Gary-P-Heath writes, "I have seen some pretty poor movies in my time, but this takes the biscuit, it is truly terrible ... the plot is dreadful, the acting is diabolical, the monster is laughable, everything about The Halfway House is awful !!!" And reviewer PartridgeFeatherz writes, "It is so bad. Bad beyond words, friends."

It should go without saying that these reviews miss the mark to an almost unbelievable extent. Read on for the truth about the entertaining monster movie The Halfway House...

An attractive blonde woman jogs through an unappealing urban landscape in Los Angeles. Suddenly, she is assaulted by a man wearing a brown monk’s robe and hood. She is dragged down stone stairs into a dungeon, tied up, and stripped of both her clothes and her bright orange headphones. Then the monk pulls a chain that opens a heavy steel door to reveal a toothy monster.

A woman named Larissa barges into a police station to report that her younger sister has been missing for three days. She hands the detective a photo of her missing sister and the detective makes a complimentary comment about the missing woman’s breasts, leading to a well-justified scolding from Larissa. When she leaves the police station after filling out paperwork, Larissa is followed by another detective. “What’s wrong?” she asks, somewhat confusingly. “Did I forget my email address?”

The detective, comedically named Dick Sheen, apologizes for his partner. He tells her there have been other disappearances in the area, all of them women living in the Mary Magdalene House for Troubled Girls.

After leaving Larissa, Detective Sheen knocks on the door at the Catholic halfway house, which is opened by Sister Mary Woronov. She informs the detective that none of the missing girls from the halfway house have returned. “We live in constant hope that the poor lasts souls will be returned to us.” When he shows her the picture of Larissa’s sister and her prominent breasts, Sister Woronov says, “She’s not one of ours. I would have remembered her…face.”

Detective Sheen leaves, but not before noticing the halfway house’s janitor rocking out while wearing bright orange headphones.

The detective meets with Larissa in a park and he tells her about the headphones, which Larissa mentioned in her report. Unfortunately, and possibly irrationally, though helpful for story reasons, Detective Sheen’s boss yells at him for suggesting he try to get a search warrant based on seeing the headphones. In an incisive bit of social commentary, the filmmakers have the inspector say, “You’re telling me that young women under the protective care of the Mary Magdalene Halfway House are being abducted and possibly harmed in some way, and that representatives of the Catholic Church are somehow trying to cover it up. Now who in the hell is gonna believe that?”

Almost immediately, Dick Sheen and Larissa are in bed making love. While they have sex, Larissa suggests that she go to the halfway house undercover as a “girl in trouble.” At first, he is opposed, but eventually she convinces him, and soon he takes Larissa to the halfway house, where she is taken in by Sister Woronov, who tells her, “If you screw up here, you’ll wish you were never born.”

After she meets the priest in charge of the house, Larissa goes to the rec room, which is full of a dozen or so young women of ill repute. When the nun leaves, Larissa is confronted by three delinquents. “I just happen to be the number one bitch around here,” says the leader of the ne’er-do-wells, Angelena, in an example of the film’s sparkling but gritty dialogue.

“I can see that,” says Larissa.

“You got a smart mouth. Maybe I should shut it for you.”

“You and what army?”

Larissa is rescued by Edwina, who likes to be called Eddie, and her girlfriend Cherry Pie, prompting Angelena to reference a little Dutch boy and a dike in one of the film’s most timely references.

Larissa is soon assigned chores, which she promptly escapes to search the priest’s office. She finds pornographic magazines, whips, and a blow-up doll, but nothing suspicious. The doll allows Larissa to perform a physical comedy routine as she tries to escape the office before the priest returns.

At night, Larissa calls Detective Sheen, asking him to check out the priest, who is “twisted enough to vote the Marquis de Sade into sainthood.” Also, Edwina and Cherry Pie have rather loud sex before tying sheets together and announcing tonight is the night they escape the halfway house. Edwina climbs down the outside of the building, but Sister Woronov discovers her and unties the sheet, sending her plunging one to two feet to the sidewalk. When Edwina runs, she is chased by Lutkus the handyman. He catches her and ties her to the floor in the dungeon seen in the prologue. Sister Woronov reveals herself, dressed in robes. “Your deviant desires can hardly be considered normal,” she tells Edwina.

Lutkus opens the stone door and the monster emerges. “My God!” Edwina cries.

“Your God can’t save you now,” hisses Sister Woronov as the squid like monster grabs the topless woman with its tentacles and pulls her toward its mouth.

Father Fogerty suspends all the girls’ privileges due to the disappearance of Edwina, and he also whips Cherry Pie in his office to try to get her to talk. Sister Woronov scolds the priest for calling the police again to report another disappearance; she appears annoyed that the police might intrude on her plot to sacrifice young women to a tentacled god-monster.

Larissa, meanwhile, finds the door leading to the sacrificial dungeon. Lutkus follows her but does nothing. Larissa leaves and takes a shower in a massive shower room with all the other halfway house residents, unaware they are all being spied on by Lutkus through a peephole in a wall (impressively, by moving his head slightly and looking through the same peephole with his other eye, Lutkus can shift his view so he is watching the women shower in completely different parts of the room).

In the locker room, Larissa sees red marks on Cherry Pie’s backside caused by the priest’s whip, increasing Larissa’s suspicions about the priest.

Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, Detective Sheen’s boss decides to investigate the halfway house, interviewing Father Fogerty and then stumbling upon the door leading to the dungeon. He finds some blood on the stone floor but instead of calling the police station he continues his investigation until he is attacked by Lutkus wielding a weed-whacked, a weapon so powerful it can disembowel police inspectors in a matter of seconds.

Later, in a scene with a far nastier tone than the rest of the film, Angelena and her cohorts threaten to rape the virginal Cherry Pie with a madonna statue because Edwina’s disappearance led to the loss of privileges and dessert.

Fortunately, Larissa interrupts the proceedings, quipping, “That’s no way to treat a virgin.”

Angelena pulls a switchblade. “How do you like the taste of your own blood?”

Larissa responds, somewhat confusingly, “Maybe you can tell me when we’re done.”

The two rumble in Cherry Pie’s room, a fight that switches from intensity to comedy when Father Fogerty wandering the halls requires the two women to freeze (twice) in the middle of hair-pulling to avoid being caught. In the end, Larissa smacks Angelena with the madonna statue, which results in Angelena and her two friends leaving the room, questionably in defeat.

At night, Sister Woronov instructs Lutkus to get rid of the inspector’s car. At the same time, Angelena declares “I’m gonna find me a real man” and leaves the halfway house through the front door. (Some pedantic viewers might question why the now-dead Edwina had to tie bedsheets together to climb out a window.) Angelena encounters her boyfriend Spider in his convertible and they have sex in the back seat of his car, parked behind the halfway house, complete with the charming phrase “Pound me like a cheap piece of meat.”

Unfortunately for the young(ish) lovers, they are interrupted by the appearance of Lutkus, who immediately slices Spider’s head off. The filmmakers cut to the dungeon, where Sister Woronov prepares to sacrifice the chained and topless Angelena to the monster. “You will be food for our god. Your flesh will provide sustenance for a being vastly superior to you. Yes, it’s an honor that’s to die for.”

The monster eats her while Sister Woronov quips, “If there are any more runaways, we’ll have to put him on a diet.”

During what might be a sermon in the chapel, Father Fogerty learns that Larissa and Cherry Pie might know something about the recent disappearances, so he takes them into his office to spank the two of them with a wooden paddle while Sister Woronov plays the organ in the chapel and leads the other girls in a chorus of “Holy Holy Holy.”

The next day, Larissa sneaks out of the halfway house in a laundry bag (again pointing to the ease with which Angelena left through the front door) to meet Detective Sheen, who has background information detailing how Sister Woronov spent time at Miskatonic University and met Lutkus, whose full name is Charles Dexter Lutkus. Also, Sister Woronov stole the Necronomicon from the Miskatonic library before fleeing to Los Angeles. Larissa rushes back to the halfway house, ignoring Detective Sheen’s warning that “If this is all true, you could be in serious danger.”

Larissa attempts to convince Father Fogerty that Sister Woronov is practicing black magic. He also paddles her again with his wooden paddle that is bedazzled with the word JESUS.

Larissa and Cherry Pie then break into Sister Woronov’s room. They find the Necronomicon in one of the dresser drawers, but they are interrupted by Sister Woronov herself. In a bold move, Sister Woronov knocks Larissa out by smacking her head with the Necronomicon. Then she tells Cherry Pie naughtily, “I’m going to invite you to dinner.”

“Really? What are we having?”

The filmmakers cut to the dungeon, where Cherry Pie is tied to the floor topless as the next sacrifice. At the same time, Detective Sheen rescues Larissa and the two find the dungeon, where they chase Lutkus to the sacrificial chamber. Unfortunately, Lutkus throws a butcher knife/machete at the detective, impaling and killing him.

Larissa grabs his gun and confronts Sister Woronov, who is allowed to make a speech explaining herself. “Beyond that door lies the vanguard of a new age, an age where man will be replaced as the dominant species of the planet.”

“Why the hell would you want to do that?”

“Because…man is a filthy, vulgar creature ruled by his own lust. He is not fit to even touch the sanctity that is woman. I put myself above such animal passions. But that wasn’t enough. I was raped, defiled by the very impure creatures that the church told me to love. But then I found a truer, older faith. A belief that the vermin of humanity could be purged by a superior race.” She also says she will be the mother of a new race when she couples with the god-monster.

They are interrupted by Father Fogerty, whose hand is somewhat awkwardly sheared off by Lutkus.

As Larissa struggles with Sister Woronov, they have a theological discussion. Larissa says, “You condemn the church because it’s run by men and men are fallible?”

“The church says I have to go through man to get to God. Well, I plan on eliminating the middleman.”

“You have to go through me first!”

The door opens and the god-monster enters the chamber, but Larissa shoots it, bursting its only eye. Sister Woronov picks up a can of gasoline to hit Larissa, but the monster grabs the nun with its tentacle and eats her.

“Looks like the wedding’s off,” Larissa quips. She unties Cherry Pie while Sister Woronov is pulled into the creature’s maw, along with the gas can. Lariss shoots the can, blowing up the monster.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Larissa says, and she and Cherry Pie leave, though they do not notice a mysterious eye blinking beyond the door.

As a final treat, the end credits include a title reading “No Elder Gods were harmed during the making of this motion picture.”

From the description above, it should be clear that The Halfway House is a charming homage to girl gang and juvenile delinquent films of the 1950s and 1960s, with some updated dialogue and a considerable amount of sex and nudity (not to mention the presence of a Lovecraftian being) adding homage to the colorful horror films of the 1980s. The setting of the film adds a lot of production value, and of course the presence of Mary Woronov only serves to multiply the film's charms. Pedantic viewers might quibble about the fact that the youngest of the young women is clearly in her late 20s and that Larissa, while very attractive, seems more the age of a house mother than a delinquent herself, but such complaints are trivial compared to the cleverness and energy of this delightful film.