How we were lied to by trailers back in the 80s. Paperhouse wasn't, isn't, and never will be the British answer to Nightmare On Elm Street we were all promised back in '88, but it is a cracking film. In fact, it's more of a children's story than anything else, only veering (effectively) into horror territory for one small segment.
The story concerns Anna - who after being subjected to the worst horror of all (being made to wait in the corridor by teacher) collapses at school. Mum rushes to pick her up (Dad's away in Mogadishu, of all places) but Anna tells her it was just a ruse to get out of school.
She gets taken back, but bunks off again - and once again collapses, this time in a disused railway tunnel, necessitating a huge police hunt. Each time she has collapsed she has dreamt of a house she drew at the beginning of the film - as she adds more to her picture, more things appear in her dreams - including a boy at the window, who tells her: "Go away, don't you understand? It's dangerous around here - dangerous!"
Despite this obvious unfriendliness, Anna decides to help anyway - and through her pictures gives the boy lots of toys to play with. She's diagnosed with glandular fever (hence the collapsing), and as the illness takes hold, the dreams become more vivid. She also learns of a disabled boy being looked after by her doctor, who she begins to realise is the boy in her dreams.
The horror comes when she decides to put her still absent dad in the picture, but doesn't like the way her drawing comes out and attempts to erase it. In her dreams he appears as a silhouette on the horizon, screaming: "Anna? Is that you? I'm BLIND!" and advances on the pair with a hammer.
What makes Paperhouse a cut above most kids' movies (and a lot of horrors) is its strangeness - the view from Anna's bedroom window is skewed, she can't rub out anything in her picture, and even the dustbinmen seem like a threat (nothing new there, then).
It also has a few genuine shocks, not least when dad leaps towards the camera from a previously inanimate photograph. And although it's eventually proved to be all in Anna's mind, Dad (played by Ben Cross) seems like a very real threat as he lurks in the shadows. ven hen he finally appears in real life you can't shake the feeling that he's about to whip out his hammer and start battering.
The dream house is also a triumph of design. All in all, Paperhouse is a great movie - a weird mixture of shocker and nostalgia that somehow pushes all the right buttons.
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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