The House Is Innocent encourages the audience to look beyond the crimes associated with a home in Sacramento.
Similar to how one can't judge a book by its cover, one also can't judge a house by its murder.
In the 1980s, Dorothea Puente ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California, cashed the Social Security checks of the elderly and disabled boarders and killed several of them. In 1988, seven victims were found buried strategically in the backyard. The home was dubbed a “murder house.”
In 2005, Barbara Holmes and Tom Williams bought the house despite warnings not to. Through a series of interviews and news clips from when the murders happened, The House Is Innocent is a documentary short film that tells the story of the couple who bought the infamous house.
One would think that this is a morbid tale of a haunted house. The House Is Innocent does not focus on the murders that take place in the house, but on how the owners opened the eyes of people around them to show them that a house is simply a house.
The documentary takes on a comedic tone. Williams and Holmes are the best part of the documentary. They said the one reason they bought the house was because the murders drew them in. “And it was cheap,” Holmes joked. At first, the couple tried to get rid of the stigma surrounding the house. They renovated it, and Holmes even made a mosaic Superman and put it on the front porch. Even with the touch-ups, people only saw the house for its crimes.
After a while, Williams started making signs for the house. One sign read, “It was the old lady who did it, not me,” and signed it from “The House.” Another sign read, “Keep out from under the grass” — an allusion to where Puente buried her victims. Williams took it one step further by building a statue of the murderess and standing it up in the backyard. Williams even closes the short film by saying, “Humor is great for healing.”
The comedic tone of the documentary pushes the audience to realize how ludicrous it is to blame a house for the murders that took place there.
The music also allows for further interpretation of the short film. When the detective who worked on the case, John Cabrera, is talking, the instrumentals are ominous and heavy. The fact that they include this style of music suggests that the director, Nicholas Coles, is not dismissing the seriousness of the murders themselves. When the couple is talking about the house, the background music is light and cheery. The contrast in music styles reinforces the idea that the house is not what happened in it.
As human beings, people often associate feelings with an object or location. When people go back to these places the memories, good or bad, come rushing back. People often see those objects or places as a memory instead of the thing itself. Any of the five senses can trigger an emotional response in a person if what they are sensing seems familiar. One often hears people say something to the effect of, “That is where I had my first kiss,” and think of fond memories or “That is where something awful happened, so I don’t like that place.”
Just because one bad event happens at that location for one or maybe a few people, it does not mean that the place holds the same memories for someone else. Williams and Holmes were not directly affected by the murders, therefore the house itself did not affect their personal reasons for buying the home. They created their own memories and made the house mean something to them.
The House Is Innocent succeeds, in the short time period of 12 minutes, in forcing people to look beyond the memories associated with the house and simply see it for what it is — just a house.