Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, ends just like a lot of 1980’s films, ready, willing and open for a sequel. I even had an idea for the quintessential vampire’s comeback at one point. And so did Derek Haugen, Jacob Givens, Clayton Cogswell and Noel Carroll, or Good Cops Entertainment, when they made I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker (2016).
The movie opens with maybe the best computer effects scene of the film, set in 1912 with a vampire (Nate Lane) attacking Mina and Jonathan Harker (Whitney Moore and Noel Carroll in dual roles) and their son Quincy (Dylan Williams). As the villain monologues, we jump back and forth to modern times and the Harker heirs plus one. Harker brothers, Gerry (Jacob Givens) and Charlie (Noel Carroll) with their friend Ned (Derek Haugen) act out that very 1912 story for the county clerk. However, Belinda (Megan O’Neil) is not amused, and threatens to sue them for misappropriation of the $50,000 grant they received to renovate the house as a historical building. Joining the gang soon after are Walter (Arlan Godthaab), the third Harker sibling Paige (Whitney Moore), and her husband Sheriff Wayne (Nathan Lorch).
Let me preface the following paragraph, which some might find a bit contentious. I like comedy, but it has to kick my ass to get an audible laugh from me. If it’s cute-funny or gory for the sake of funny, but delivers nothing else, I might watch it once in a theater or turn it off if it’s streaming.
Straight horror and comedy without veering off into parody, camp or satire, might be the most difficult genres to combine, and straight horror comedy that keeps its edge is even more rare. A dozen of the best including Evil Dead II (1987), Return of the Living Dead (1968) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), almost make up the entire list before we start adding outright parodies like Young Frankenstein (1974) and Saturday the 14th (1981), camp like The Toxic Avenger (1984) and the rare satire, such as Cabin in the Woods (2012) or Frankenhooker (1990). All of those use various types of comedy, but comedy in horror in any style or combination is tough business.
House Harker is a horror comedy, a comedy of errors with a bit of parody, slapstick and camp, but it’s a comedy of errors with impeccable comic timing, ambitious camera work by Max Margolin, good practical and digital special effects that are sometimes big-budget amazing created by Jon Enge and Gary Scullion, a good balance of truly frightening moody scenes, as well as twists that caught a horror burnout like yours truly off guard and a soundtrack that rises above its similar-budgeted peers. Additionally, the comedy is put more and more on the backburner as the horror helps conclude the second half of the story.
The soundtrack is way above par, including a score by Tim Sloane and three tracks by Right Said Fred. And there are a lot of decent tracks by Tim Sloane and others from the cast and crew, Noel Carroll, Jamie Givens, and Clayton Cogswell. My personal favorite though is “Am I to Be the One” by the Dead Brothers.
Some non-spoiler teases include an anti-sparkling vampire theme, a Nosferatu (1929) style main baddie, some new and unique kills, and don’t miss the post-credit scene. Also, in a twist, one character reveals his past in a hilarious flashback.
One element that makes this film look less budget is a gargantuan cast for such a low budget film, some playing dual roles, many of them from behind the camera and some Good Cops Entertainment regulars. Peter Story as the killer, Nix County Necro, might have the best death and bloodletting scene. Jayson Speters plays Chad, a Weird Science (1985)/Bill Paxton/Chet-level bully. Talya Carroll plays an author of sparkling vampire novels. And Damian Beurer plays an actor, who agrees to play a fake vampire.
Cezil Reed and Jahdai Pickett provide some meta comic relief as police officers. Allen Cragin and K. Spencer Jones pull off some pretty weird character performances in their short screen time as Ned’s bosses. I don’t recall listing so many bit parts in a review before, but it’s important to note. Most of the bit parts are well-acted, which translates to good direction. I’m saving the best for last though.
Mary Haugen plays Walter’s shotgun-wielding wife, whose actions might make her the second more frightening villain to Nate Lane’s Vampire, who really steals the show, and I am surprised that this is his only movie. Playing the young preteen versions of our hero family are Owen Carroll, Imogen Cogswell and Ewan Givens, and it’s this scene that is truly frightening, supported by great camera work, great acting, a terrific score and an all-around eerie mood.
Haugen, Givens, Carroll and Cogswell seem to be the creative force behind the film and Good Cops Entertainment, though they have an incredible support team with them. They also made the web series Good Cops, inspired by “their passion for 1980’s cop movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.” Haugen, Givens, and Carroll star in that as well, while Cogswell directs, as he does House Harker. They raised $37,000 on Kickstarter for House Harker, but it’s unclear if that makes up the complete budget.
If you’re not so sure about House Harker, then try an episode of Good Cops. I couldn’t watch just one and finished it in a sitting. I watched the first episode of their other show Tumbleweed, about a gamer apparently stuck in a western game, and I might have to finish that show after writing this. Both of their shows can be seen on their YouTube channel, GoodCopsTV. I don’t know if these guys have another horror movie in them, but they have comedy down pat, so I’m keeping an eye out.
The comedy might be too much for some horror aficionados, even Zemeckis might need Dramamine for the moving camera, and the filmmakers pull everything out of their filmmaking arsenal, but it is highly competent filmmaking, and anything else one could say negatively about it is outweighed by good acting, logical plot twists, quality effects, some turned around tropes, plenty of surprises and some originality. I wasn’t so sure about it myself, but I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker had me within the first ten minutes.
I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker is available streaming from Amazon.