There have been many movies and books done about Elizabeth Short AKA The Black Dahlia. In “The Black Dahlia Haunting” writer/director Brandon Slagle brings a fresh new twist to the iconic story. The film connects four unique characters together, each with their own story. The concept is a refreshing take an over 60 year-old mystery.
In the beginning of the film we see Malcolm (Slagle) find a dagger in a cave up on a hill. This is supposedly the same dagger used in the killings. When he touches it he sees violent crime scenes. The dagger seems to speak to Malcolm and we see him pleading with it, asking, “How can I help you”? Malcolm calls the police and reports a murder that’s about to happen that he’s going to commit. Slagle plays the increasingly disturbed character down key which works well for the role.
Holly Jenson (Devanny Pinn) boards a plane to Los Angeles to visit her brother Tyler Jenson (Noah Dahl) who is under California State care after the murders of his parents. Britt Grifth plays Noah’s therapist, Dr. Brian Owen. When Holly meets with Tyler he doesn’t know he has a sister because of their father. He is blind but has been drawing pictures of lady who has been murdered for over sixty years. Dr. Owen wonders if Tyler may have seen something impressionable before he lost his eyesight as the cause of the drawings. The drawings wind up being of Elizabeth Short. Tyler it turns out is the “catalyst” of the haunting while Holly is the ‘conduit”.
As the story and characters progress we start to see a mysterious black fog along with a lay show up more and more. In one scene Holly asks a lady she sees on the sidewalk dressed in black and asks her about a street. The lady doesn’t respond and the camera fades as we see her disappear.
The story starts to become more complex as we see Dr. Owen has a shrine set up to the Black Dahlia and the killing. His character begins to descend into complete obsession. All the while, Holly continues to be visited by the ghost of the Black Dahlia (Alexis Iacono). In a shower seen we see her caressing Holly while she whispers in her ear, “let me help you hurt the ones who’ve hurt you.” The scene is done with class and is an important transition scene as Holly begins to take on her persona.
A pivot point in the film comes when after a young Elizabeth Short has performed a self abortion in the bathtub. We then see her crying on the steps of a motel and being comforted by a young Norma Jeane (later to be Marilyn Monroe). Although it’s a small part, Jeane (Jessica Cameron) plays an important part as she refers Short to someone who will help her with her problems. That person winds up being Steven Cordell (The Black Dahlia’s Killer) played to a creepy perfection by Cleve Hall (Monster Man). Playing the part of Marilyn Monroe is a daunting challenge for any actress and it’s played with style and flair by Cameron. It’s not the only time Marilyn Monroe will be in the story as we see Holly standing on her star in Hollywood.
Holly continues to become more possessed by the Black Dahlia while her brother keeps “seeing” her haunt him. We find out that there’s a dark side to Dr. Owen of which Holly becomes suspicious. As the character arc builds the story starts to fall into place. Everyone is being troubled by either a haunting, possession or obsession going back to the original murder (to this day still unsolved). Although cliche, we believe the Black Dahlia and her killer are representative of each character’s personal demons and fears. Both an obsession and a possession are hard if not next to impossible to control and it’s this lack of control that’s so scary.
There are many points to this story that the viewer is left to interpret, which we found out from Slagle was the point. Although there are some somewhat gory scenes with the killings and beatings, many of the images are unseen. We asked Slagle if Hitchcock was an inspiration for this film and he said he was.
“The Black Dahlia Haunting” is a very impressive film, especially for being filmed on such a micro budget. Some of the budget is noticeable in the special effects, but overall the movie has a big budget feel. The cinematography and acting is engaging, although we would have liked to have seen more chemistry between the characters played by Pinn and Griffith. Pinn gives a delightful performance as Holly and Dahl (a real life genius) is believable as the blind Tyler. There are some aspects of the film that are both confusing and overlapping at first glance, but just before the writing of this review we had an epiphany where everything fell into place and it all made sense. We love that type of movie.