The Murder House (1998)

Director Warrick Attewell
Writers Ken Hammon
Starring James Odish, Tina Cleary
Genre Fear Itself
Run Time (minutes) 10:38

Talk us through it

Sid, a young schoolboy, finds his day descending into nightmare as he receives a summons from the School Dental Nurse. Dental care at Sid's school comprises a detached small building, with bars on the windows, and out of date equipment. Thankfully for Sid the Nurse can find nothing wrong with his teeth until in a shock development she discovers a cavity that will need the tender mercies of "Mr Buzzer"!

Taking advantage of a disruption Sid makes his escape from the seemingly pain loving Nurse and flees into the bright day. However this is a horror flick and all roads must lead back to the Dental Room that dripped blood.

Can Sid escape the tender mercies of the Dental Nurse?


"Looks like I will have to use my faithful old friend after all" - Dental Nurse.

The concept of the dental plan from hell hasn't been overlooked by the horror genre. There's simply something diabolical in the concept of a stranger putting wads of cotton in your mouth and attacking your teeth with stainless steel instruments of torture. A number of short stories have explored the concept of a revenge driven Dentist, while the movies have focused on various demented Dentists with patients at their mercy, and of course the classic pain loving Dental Patient in Little Shop Of Horrors. However The Murder House is perhaps the most unique take on the dental hygiene concept, with the horror being viewed from the explicit viewpoint of the young schoolboy Sid. For foreign and young readers, Australia and New Zealand ran a school dental program through the late 20th Century that caused terror amongst local school kids. It was a free service and as such wasn't exactly cutting edge, no pun intended. I don't think they have the program any more, it might strip Government payments from big business, but the share terror of being called out to go see the School Dental Nurse remains an abiding terror.

The very clever script for The Murder House was writing by the rampaging Ken Hammon, who earned everlasting horror fame, or maybe notoriety, for his work on Peter Jackson's debut feature Bad Taste. Hammon takes full value from the Dental Nurse situation and mixes in enough horror tropes to have dark genre voyagers sitting up and begging for more. Everything is from the viewpoint of Sid, in the boy's eye the Nurse revels in giving pain, and a number of classic horror moments are dragged skipping and screaming into the sun to fully endorse the share terror Sid faces as his day plunges into the abyss.

Sid cannot escape his appointment with the school nurse, and is hurried upon his way by the sort of School Teacher who in his spare time tortures puppies. Once in the dental room from hell Sid discovers there is no escape from his apparent doom, the bars on the bathroom window were an excellent touch, both ominous and perfectly logical. The Nurse is quickly shown to be apparently enjoying inflicting pain; she touches a dental instrument to Sid's face and then decides they should let the torture devices cool down. Naturally the Nurse is delighted that the School can't afford the more modern painless drill, and almost reaches orgasm when she detects that Sid has a cavity that will need the attention of "Mr Buzzer". Sid does make a bid for freedom, but it's a false hope as he realizes he has to go back and face the music, nice use of an ominous school shot with suddenly darken clouds overhead. Naturally Sid does eventually live through his ordeal only to find in a shock twist that there's something else waiting for him! No doubt tripe and onions was on the dinner menu to round out the day's activities.

Attewell and Hammon are all over a stylish journey into school yard terror, it's a remarkable piece of work.

The salient point throughout The Murder House is that events are viewed solely from Sid's perspective. The film travels the course of one childhood phobia and drabs everything with the sort of horror that a young person might view their world in. What's interesting is that the standard feeling of powerlessness in the face of evil, hello possession movies, is the dominate theme in the movie. Sid cannot change his fate and thus has to consign himself to Dante's fifth circle and endure the unendurable.

Director Warrick "Waka" Attewell is on his game and spins the horror motifs like a crazed Andy Warhol after a particular bad drug binge. The share terror on Sid's face as he is chosen as the next victim of "the murder house" is worth the price of admission alone. Attewell spins out the selection process and has it working like a Government PR jockey after an environmental policy decision. We groove to Sid's scared vibe as he takes the long walk to the house of pain. The Dental Nurse is simply over the top and Attewell nails the larger than life viewpoint a young school kid would have of the Nurse. The instruments of torture are given some love in a series of shots that wouldn't be out of place in a modern torture porn movie. And Sid's escape and jubilation at having avoided his fate brings to mind Julie Andrews on a particular fine morning in the Alps. The hills are alive with, well, probably sheep really. The realization that he must face his fears is excellently captured as Sid returns to the waiting Dental Nurse. Simply stunning storm cloud usage there, in a sort of parody of more overly serious horror outings. Director Attewell shows the potential to be able to hit the horror ball over the boundary; it's a pity he didn't go on to make a full length cinema movie or two in the dark genre.

The final scene of the movie is a hoot, with Sid having grown as a person through his experiences, and no doubt gaining no small measure of satisfaction as he passes the poison chalice of a dental summons onto one of the girls who took delight in his early morning call out.

James Ordish (Sid) is simply stunning as the schoolboy facing a nightmare he can't escape from. Ordish lets his facial expressions do the business, there's little to no dialogue for Sid, and is totally believable. I was actually cheering as Sid made his break for freedom. Tina Cleary (Dental Nurse) is equally superb as the demonic Dental Nurse bitch monster who likes to inflict pain. Cleary gives an animated performance and morphs into every kid's dental boogey gal. Considering the film is pretty much a two punch, Ordish and Cleary rise to the challenge and knock us dead in the aisles.

It's not often that the score is a major contributor in a short, story to be told let's get going, but Jeremy Dempsey is inspired with his work on The Murder House. The score reminded me of a John Carpenter effort, circa Halloween, though Dempsey takes it up a step with plenty of dramatic flourishes and horror style renderings. The Composer is for sure getting in on the fun in sending up horror tropes. The short is well worth viewing on the strength of the score alone folks, huge thumbs up to Jeremy Dempsey here.

I was unable to find a video to embed here but thankfully our friends over at NZ Onscreen have come to the rescue and are hosting the short. Click through right here to view the film. Actually I'll be checking out some of the other videos on that site in coming weeks, a nice and growing collection of Kiwi horror shorts to be had folks. And before you ask yes I checked out some of the Mushroom music clips and of course the Rugby telecasts.

ScaryMinds Rates this short as ...

An excellent short movie that captures a moment of terror that many readers will remember.