Based on a true story, HOUSE ON THE HILL is a true crime melodrama with strong horror elements, chronicling the outrageous 1980s murder spree of serial killer Leonard Lake, who would target, kidnap, rob and kill people — and even whole families. Sonia, the only survivor of Lake’s killing spree, teams up with a private investigator to help him locate a woman who disappeared into Lake’s compound. In the process, Sonia recounts the horrors of the house, where Lake and his accomplice would force her to videotape the killings.
House on the Hill is based on the true story of serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. If you’re not familiar with the duo, they were a couple of real bastards. Misogynists to the core, the two men would kidnap women and videotape themselves raping, torturing, and killing them (in Paul von Stoetzel’s documentary, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, the Lake and Ng tapes are discussed as to whether they are “snuff films,” per se, or are simply horrifying videos showing violent, inhuman acts). In facts, clips of these videos are actually scattered throughout House on the Hill, but they are only one of a handful of details that helped sink this boat before it ever got sailing.
Directed by Jeff Frentzen (his directorial debut, having previously stuck to writing and producing) and co-written by Frentzen and Nicole Marie Polec (her only foray as of yet into the movie world), House on the Hill suffers immediately from trying to go in too many directions at once. So, we’ve got a storyline showing Leonard Lake (Stephen A. F. Day) and Charles Ng (Sam Leung) kidnapping women, beating them, raping them, killing them, and forcing one of their victims, Sonia (Naidra Dawn Thomson), to videotape all of it. We also have the real footage of Lake ranting his so-called philosophy of what women are and what they deserve, and this is scattered throughout the film. We ALSO have another storyline, distinguished by being shot in black and white, of an investigator coming to Sonia’s home, present day, and asking her about how she survived and if she knew a woman named Karianna (played in the main storyline by Shannon Leade), a plotline that really does nothing to advance the story (until the ridiculous, Lifetime channel-like ending) but does, unfortunately, shine a light on some weak acting. I found myself so often asking “what is the point of all of this?” throughout the movie.
In one of the real video clips, Lake says that he wants to be able to use women when he wants them, then put them away until next time. This is pretty much the main idea of the predominant storyline of the movie. Lake and Ng kidnap various girls, then do stuff to them. Some are killed right away, some are held for a time, forced to do horrible things, and are then killed. None of the women are developed as characters beyond their victimhood, and so the audience struggles to feel any emotions about anything going on. Even the two main victims, Sonia and Karianna, don’t seem to exist outside of their place as tortured hostages forced to videotape the killers’ escapades.
I’m often intrigued by true crime stories, especially serial killers, but somehow I found little to no point in all of this. Two guys kidnap woman, woman is beaten, hostages console each other, cut to black and white shot of Sonia staring off into space or film footage of Lake rambling about himself, and then repeat it all over again – that’s House on the Hill in a nutshell. When it does stray from this pattern, it actually manages to get even worse. The end is so bad. So pointless. It’s borderline insulting. Note to future directors of serial killer thrillers: DO NOT try and wrap up your movie with a cutesy, heartstring-pulling moment. It makes all of us feel a little weird inside, and it really takes away from everything you have tried to accomplish for the past ninety-some minutes. Save that crap for the rom-coms, buddy.
If I had to pick out the strong points of this one, I guess I’d say that the camerawork was handled adequately, and that most of the blood was realistic enough. The ending of the main plotline stays pretty close to the real life story, with Lake getting arrested and (spoiler alert) taking a cyanide capsule, while Ng remains out in the world for a bit longer before finally getting caught. Granted, this IS Frentzen’s directorial debut, but he was no stranger to the movie world previous to this, so I don’t know how much leeway we should grant him on the poorly executed story we have to suffer through. You should avoid House on the Hill at all costs unless you’re really, really, super interested in Lake and Ng, and even then, don’t say I didn’t warn you.