Review Date: October 11, 2007
Released by: Warner Premiere
Release date: 10/16/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Remember when the idea of remaking a horror movie was fresh? When Dark Castle’s House on Haunted Hill
debuted in 1999 it was greeted by horror fans and critics alike. It was a welcomed throwback to those good old fashioned horror stories of old. Now, eight years later, throwbacks are making horror fans the world over throw up in disgust. No horror film is sacred any longer, whether it’s being redone by Dark Castle, Michael Bay or some other studio looking to cash a name. Even more old hat though, is us horror fans complaining about it, so enough with that. So now, the film that basically kicked off the remake frenzy is finally seeing a sequel itself, Return to House on Haunted Hill
. Direct-to-video, without any cast members from the original and made by a first-time director…should we really care?
Remember Sarah from the original? No, I didn’t really either. IMDb tells me it was Ali Larter. So anyway, she has a sister, Ariel ([b]The OC[b]’s Amanda Righetti
), who works for some successful magazine. Before she says more than a few lines she finds out her sister committed suicide. A few lines after that, it’s off to that house on haunted hill to try and figure the whole thing out. She’s not going on her own discretion though. She’s been kidnapped by some folks wanting to get this priceless artifact that’s apparently been buried there. Only Sarah has the map, courtesy of her dead sister, and she’s going to help them find it. They’ll all be joined, unbeknownst, by some college students (including Cabin Fever
’s Cerina Vincent
) looking for the same loot. Ahh…greed.
So when these deadbeats finally get to the house, they realize what we already knew from the first film. The house used to be the home of Dr. Richard Vannacutt (played again by Stuie Gordon’s main man, Jeffrey Combs
), where he’d conduct his psychiatric experiments on the criminally insane. The insane revolted, and virtually everyone died, haunting the house from here to eternity. So now, one by one, these characters will come face to face with creatures even more vapid than themselves – ghosts. It’s deaths a plenty as these victims try to search for a way out.
I like a short movie. I’ve always had admiration for filmmakers like Woody Allen, Robert Bresson and David Cronenberg, who consistently make grand statements in short time. Special effectsman, Victor Garcia (Dagon
), directs this to a tight and trim 81 minutes (73 without the start and end credits), but I’m not sure he said all that much. I hardly ever find myself saying this, but like with another asylum direct-to-video flick, Stallone’s Eye See You
, a longer run-time probably could have helped. What seems missing most is, well, Jeffrey Combs’ vocabulary. Despite being the villainous doctor that ties this film to the first, he doesn’t even have a single line in the movie. He stands there an awful lot, but no, nary a peep. Why get one of the genre’s most notable figures and have them stand around the entire time? Did Christopher Lee boom op, too? A good ten minutes worth of material with Combs could have easily (welcomely) been added. At least he has a cool mustache.
This is definitely a film for the attention deficit crowd, with quick historical flashbacks that follow each and every ghost emergence. What? Two rotting, naked women seducing one of the female guests? Turns out they were lesbians! Huh? A couple ghoulish beasts attacking some guests in a water well? They were thrown down there for punishment years ago! So yes, each and every ghost gets a one minute flashback before they pulverize the next victim. Thankfully, the deaths are pretty fun, even if they are all lifted from better movies. At least they lifted good deaths from good movies though, rather than your usual guy with a knife clichés. Add in copious amounts of blood, some boobs and some cynical comedic quips, and this is definitely a movie aware of its audience.
Still, this movie is short. So short that the villain never even talks. So short that the protagonist doesn’t even have time to retaliate or even hold a grudge when she realizes who killed her sister. So short, even, that a sequel baiting jump ending couldn’t even be tacked on. No, this is as lean as they come in horror. It’s basically like one of those Halloween haunted houses that every city has this time of year. If going to one of those costs more than a rental, then you’d probably be better off with this. Hell, it will be shorter, at any rate.
The film, or should I say short, is presented here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s a new production, so naturally the print’s clean and the colors look vivid. Yet, this is disappointingly a grainy transfer. It’s always around, but sometimes it gets worse to the point of distraction. Did someone turn up the gain a little too high on those HD cameras? I don’t know, but it looks pretty weak for a recent film. Clarity suffers as a result too. It’s certainly watchable and clearer than most of the older horror films we cover here, but for a film made in 2007, this should be leaps and bounds better.
Even if the image quality is lacking, the sound sure isn’t. This packs a very active and enveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, with plenty of ambience to spare. Right from the start the rears get a good workout, with cars whizzing by and echoes reverberating throughout the haunted house. The bass really gets pumped too. At times, the track can be a bit too active, with some volume riding necessary to hear the dialogue in some scenes and not wake up your neighbours with others. I’ve been disappointed with a lot of recent 5.1 tracks, but thankfully this one reminded me what all those six channels are used for.
The extras here are interesting. None of them look at the making of the film at all. No, instead they all take place in character, helping to flesh out the people and backstory of the phenomenally short feature. There are 19 little interview clips in the “Character Confessionals” section, with all the characters detailing in less than a minute each, why they are there and what they expect to find in this creepy castle. There’s a three minute faux documentary with the professor in the film as well, to help setup the mythology behind the Baphomet Idol that everyone is searching for. It’s an interesting project, since these sort of interviews would help the actors find the essence of their (admittedly shallow) characters, while at the same time providing the viewer of the DVD a chance to flesh out the story at their own will without slowing down the pacing of the actual film. Problem is, neither the film nor these extras are really interesting enough to warrant more exposition.
Eight minutes of deleted scenes also help bring a little more substance to the film, and they all actually work pretty well. Most seemed trimmed to cut back on the comedy, but some of them would have helped develop the story a little better too. There are four of them in total. Lastly, there’s a metal music video by Mushroomhead, and unfortunately it’s not nearly as campy as the ones found on James Wan DVDs. And the biggest slap to the face? None of the singers are wearing a mushroom head, instead opting for the played out pig head. Lame.
Well, they definitely do return to the house on haunted hill, but they get out nearly as fast. The story is as brisk and anemic as you could imagine, and the clichéd deaths certainly don’t help the film distinguish itself either. Still, despite being cliché, the murders are done well enough, and there’s enough blood, boobs, and bad CGI to satisfy the average horror buff. The image quality is pretty grainy, but the sound really tears one loose. The supplements are an interesting way to flesh out the story, but are all pretty disposable. It’s a collection of scares, so if you’re too lazy to go out to your local House of Fright this Halloween, this film will certainly pass the time. All 72 minutes of it, that is.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - B
Sound - A-
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 21 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- "Character Confessions" video gallery
- "The Search for an Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer's Quest" featurette
- Additional scenes
- Mushroomhead music video