Eloise is pretty standard ghosts-of-mental-patients-and-staff-haunting-an-abandoned-asylum fare, but for the purposes of this site, it stands out for the role of Dell (Brandon T. Jackson), a character that’s such a crudely drawn throwback, he should’ve been thrown away before filming began. Dell single-handedly embodies at least four tired black horror character “types”; he’s a criminal, he’s comic relief, he’s a sidekick and he’s a spook — not to mention an all-around self-centered asshole whose existence revolves around greed and deception.
SPOILER ALERT if you don’t want to know what happens to Dell — granted, the fates of all the main characters are revealed within the first five minutes of the movie, and his fate has little impact on the plot anyway.
In the story, Dell’s old pal Jacob (Chace Crawford) discovers that in order to claim his late father’s million-dollar inheritance, he must prove that his only other relative, an aunt he never knew named Genevieve, is dead. She’s presumed to have died in Eloise, a shuttered Michigan insane asylum, so he needs to comb through its annals to find a death certificate. Teehee. Annals.
In steps Dell, who first appears on screen wearing a ski mask — because, you know, he’s black. He supposedly is just wearing it to scare his buddy Jacob, whom he hasn’t seen in years, but why the heck does he own a ski mask in the first place? Because he’s a damn thief, that’s why. In fact, as he hugs Jacob and gives his condolences about his father’s death, he proceeds to steal Jacob’s dad’s antique watch, MID-HUG, like some sort of Dickensian pickpocket. When Jacob calls him on it, Dell is less than apologetic, saying, “What, you want it back now?” UM, YEAH, YOU MFING KLEPTO. But no, actually, Jacob takes pity on his charity case of a friend and lets him keep it. Thank you, white guilt.
Dell’s character only goes downhill from there. As he and Jacob chat, Dell proclaims that although he’s been “straight” for two years, he’s in debt to some bad people for $20,000. AGAIN Jacob apparently sees him as afflicted with such a handicap — terminal criminality — that he’s obliged to promise him 20 grand out of his impending inheritance. Jackass that he is, Dell doesn’t even say thanks. He’s too busy staking claim to stuff that’s not his — apparently, even more than the 20 grand: “Can you imagine what we can do with that money?” he asks Jacob. “We can start our lives over!” WE?!?!
When it turns out the death certificate is in the asylum’s annex and requires a court order to access — which would take several months — Dell convinces Jacob they should break into the annex. Did I mention he’s a criminal?
Looking for someone who can guide them through the facility, they find amateur historian Scott Carter (P.J. Byrne) online. When they meet Scott, he’s a bit quirky — and mentally impaired — so Dell suddenly has second thoughts. Cue the “modern spook” rant: “I am NOT going to Eloise with a crazy dude jumping on the bed like he’s Daffy Duck! You know what? I’m done, dude!” So, he’s willing to give up a million dollars just because he finds their guide weird? Dell’s dislike of Scott becomes a running gag, so they become the funniest comedy duo this side of the Menendez brothers. Lucky for them, Scott’s sister Pia (Eliza Dushku) agrees to go along to look after him.
Dell’s spooked streak continues as they approach the hospital. When informed they’re walking through a graveyard, he starts to freak out: “You mean all this time, we’re walking on crazy dead people?” He then gets jumpy over some motion sensor lights.
Inside the building, the group splits up — because OF COURSE — and even though Jacob radios to say that he’s found the death certificate, Dell can’t help but continue to steal! It’s what he does! First, he sees he’s misplaced the stolen watch and puts his fist through a glass door to get to it (never mind its value pales in comparison to the inheritance they already have in hand). Not content with just the watch, though, he notices a stash of 30-year-old medicine bottles that he feels is worth swiping. As he does so, he decides to pour the contents of one random bottle onto the cut on his hand (having punched a glass door), not taking the time to read that it’s LSD.
When he starts to hallucinate, he naturally pulls out a gun (standard issue with the ski mask) and starts shooting. And nothing good ever happens to people in horror movies who freak out and start shooting everywhere. R.I.P., you ridiculous moron.
Look, I’m not one to say that black folks should never play criminals, but this was such a perfect storm of reprehensible qualities in such an asinine role, it’s hard to ignore — especially in a moderately budgeted production with recognizable names (granted, I’m still not sure why I know Chace Crawford’s name).