In Hollywood, even the ghosts are famous: “The Black Dahlia Haunting”

October 17, 2014


The case of the Black Dahlia is one of the most famous unsolved murder cases in history, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The killing of Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, was so savage, so sadistic,, so monstrous that it’s nearly impossible to understand what kind of a mind could inflict such horrors on another human being. Even such prolific serial killers as John Wayne Gacy, Jefferey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy didn’t do to their victims what was done to Elizabeth Short (well, not pre-mortem anyway). Surely, a crime this horrific must have some larger implications or hold some larger meaning. James Ellroy expertly crafted the former idea into a great novel about the birth of modern Los Angeles. The low-budget horror flick The Black Dahlia Haunting…uh, well, it has a girl/girl shower scene. Without nudity. (Sigh) okay, let’s just get on with this.

The Black Dahlia Haunting begins as some dude digs around a cave and finds a magic knife of some sort. Suddenly he goes all woozy and begins hearing voices. Ew. That’s never good. At the same time, Holly Jensen (Devanny Pinn) arrives in LA to visit her estranged, blind brother Tyler (Noah Dahl). Tyler is in a mental institution after shooting his parents. Apparently he had really good aim for a blind guy, and his psychiatrist Dr. Brian Owen (Britt Griffith) is curious about that. Understandable, really.

Nothing scary than a ghost just hanging out. In broad daylight. On a bucolic suburban street.

Nothing scary than a ghost just hanging out. In broad daylight. On a bucolic suburban street.

Tyler doesn’t give much away about the murders except to say he had help. Almost like he had an accomplice, right? Yeah, except no one explores that option. Instead Dr. Owen is more interested in the pictures Tyler keeps sketching (blindly, remember). They’re pictures of famous murder victim Elizabeth Short.

Well, Holly doesn’t like Dr. Owen, but she doesn’t really like anybody, so she mostly just hangs out being ornery. She doesn’t know who Elizabeth Short is, never heard of the Black Dahlia, and doesn’t much give a damn about her. She also has bad dreams. Eventually a real fake CGI mist creeps up on her while she’s showering and takes the form of Elizabeth Short. Ghost Elizabeth promptly feels up an oblivious Holly, and then I guess possesses her.

This scene is, like, 85% of why this movie exists.

This scene is, like, 85% of why this movie exists.

Okay, so let’s speed this up a bit. Holly has been possessed by The Black Dahlia and the nameless dude has been possessed by her killer. Seems Holly’s father molested her and Tyler while her mom turned a blind eye, and Ghost Elizabeth helped him take his revenge. The various possessed people just do weird stuff until the dude kills himself for reasons I didn’t quite catch. Then Holly-Dahlia (Hahlia?) kills a couple of cops for reasons I also didn’t catch.

Finally, Hahlia gets abducted by Dr. Owen, who, as it turns out, is the grandson of the Dahlia killer. He takes her to the family murder dungeon where she taunts him until he kills her. Uh…I’m not sure what Ghost Elizabeth’s plan was here. Aha! But then Tyler shows up—guided, no doubt, but Ghost Dahlia who helped him kill his parents. Tyler kills Dr. Owen, and now the Dahlia can rest in peace. Presumably. I don’t know.

Not exactly the direction I'd go with the make-up, but what do I know?

Not exactly the direction I’d go with the make-up, but what do I know?

Man, what a gross movie. Look, I appreciate that director Brandon Slagle made this movie for, like, the cost of an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, but you don’t need a budget to write a good story (ahemPrimerahem). The Black Dahlia Haunting is not a good story. I mean, c’mon, we got two ghosts controlling people for no real reason. Is there any reason Ghost Katherine selected Tyler to kill her killer’s ghost-zombie and his grandson? Why didn’t she just possess someone to kill him like, after she died? Why did she wait a couple decades? Was she busy?

Ultimately, we’ve sene this kind of movie before, and there’s no real reason this had to be about The Black Dahlia. There is nothing specific to the case that makes this movie work. It could be a totally fictionalized murder and the movie would be more or less the same. But Slagle seems to have a thing for cranking out low budget horror movies capitalizing on heinous crimes (House of Manson and the upcoming The Zodiac Legacy), so there’s your answer.

Also there's this. Really sells it, huh?

Also there’s this. Really sells it, huh?

Ultimately, The Black Dahlia Haunting is a grimy exploitation pic without the direction, acting or dialogue to even make it competently off-putting. As it is, it’s just inert. I mean, it makes the god-awful Brian DePalma adaptation of Ellroy’s novel look like a masterpiece by comparison. How bad do you have to be to make that happen? The Black Dahlia Haunting bad.

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