Paperhouse (Working Title Films, 1988)

This film from director Bernard Rose (who would later helm Candyman and Immortal Beloved) is a delightfully scary look at the blending of dreams and reality. Anna (Charlotte Burke) is an eleven-year-old girl who enjoys drawing. During a class one day, she produces a picture of an amorphic house with large, forbidding rocks (gravestones?) in the front yard. After an unfortunate incident, she dreams that she wakes up in the field in front of the house that she has drawn. She runs to it and calls out for someone to come out. No one answers and she wakes up.

Noting the similarities between the houses, she gets the idea to draw a sad-looking boy in its top-floor window. In her next dream, she calls out and a sad-looking boy named Marc (Elliott Spiers) peers out of an upper window. She calls for him to come down but he says he can't as there are no stairs.

Then she takes the time to design a full floor plan and upon her return is able to go inside, but now the boy can't walk because she didn't draw him legs. Her attempt to remedy this is the first time she begins to realize that not everything is going to be malleable in this picture. Still, as she is now ill and spending a lot of time in bed, she continues to dream, getting more and more involved until, at a pivotal point, she draws her father into the picture, then, dissatisfied with the image, angrily scratches him out.

From a screenplay by Matthew Jacobs (based on Catherine Storr's novel Marianne Dreams), director Rose draws us into Anna's fantasy world. Production designer Gemma Jackson deserves a lot of the credit with her design of the "paperhouse" and its environs, particularly the use of darks and grays. The line between reality and the dream world is always clear, even when Anna's doctor mysteriously mentions another patient of hers -- a paralyzed boy named Marc.

The story is sufficiently creepy, never crossing the line into pure horror, but always treading the darker areas of dream fantasy. Burke's performance as Anna is so pure and natural -- childlike without being childish -- that it is a pity that she has done no more film work. And although I did not feel that Glenne Headly was sufficiently "motherly" towards Anna -- she seemed more like a put-out older sister -- she does manage to pull off a serviceable English accent.

Rose would later graduate into full-out gruesome horror with his adaptation of a Clive Barker story in Candyman; but in Paperhouse, he keeps the terror cerebral, where true horror resides.

[Craig Clarke]

An interesting career (thus far) spanning interview with Bernard Rose is available
on the Writers Guild of America site.