Director: Le-Van Kiet
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Scream Factory tackles some Asian horror with middling results with their DVD of HOUSE IN THE ALLEY.

The marriage of Thao (Thanh Van Ngo, ONCE UPON A TIME IN VIETNAM) and Thanh (Son Bao Tran, HOLLOW) turns out to not be such a blessed union. Even before Thao miscarried their child, Thanh's mother accused him of neglecting the family business as well as the house given to them as a wedding present. In the aftermath of their child's death, Thao has refused to let the body leave the house (keeping the small coffin in the bedroom); but it is not until the couple try to rekindle their relationship that strange things begin to happen in the house. At night, Thanh hears laughter and senses a presence (or many) in the house, but neither Thao nor his brother Minh believe him, and his mother blames his stress and his mounting injuries on his crazy wife. He starts to share that opinion when Thao turns violent towards him, but the solution and the couple's very survival may lie in the past secrets of the house in the alley.

HOUSE IN THE ALLEY seems a strange sophomoric effort for director Le-Van Kiet, whose first feature DUST OF LIFE (2006) was about a young Vietnamese refugee trying to assimilate into 1990's Orange County. The pacing is slow – not so much emulating other models of the "subtle horror" genre so much as going through the motions – and the Asian horror imagery very familiar, however gorgeously shot. Underneath the surface gloss and gloom is the underdeveloped theme of the effect on the wife's psyche of her "failure" to bear a child, with supporting characters devaluing her and her grief (and the mother outright stating that a woman who cannot bear a child is useless). There are a couple red herring clues about the nature of the haunting, but the ultimate explanation is fairly predictable (although it would not have mattered so much if the story had been more psychologically rich).

HOUSE IN THE ALLEY is being released via Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line on DVD only, although this is not due to the fine-looking source – although aliasing is evident on ornate outer gates of some of the neighboring houses in a couple long shots – which is anamorphically-enhanced and framed at 2.00:1 (the case states 1.78:1). Although the case only states stereo audio, the disc features a Vietnamese Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a horrid English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo dub (this kind of voice acting may be grudgingly acceptable on Jackie Chan films, but it's inappropriately comical here). The original track is also recommended because it is somewhat more successful in recessing some of the ghostly sounds and loud bangs into the surrounds; but it seems to be the fault of the mix itself that all of the aforementioned noises sound as if they are part of the score rather than occurring within the scene. The sole extra is a pair of teaser trailers for the film, but the first pressings do come with the sort of cardboard slipcover afforded to the company's special editions. (Eric Cotenas)