5.30.2008

House On Haunted Hill (1999) & Return To House On Haunted Hill (2007)

DIRECTED BY
William Malone


STARRING
Ali Larter - Sarah Wolfe/Jennifer Jenzen
Taye Diggs - Eddie Baker
Geoffrey Rush - Steven H. Price
Famke Janssen - Evelyn Stockyard Price
Bridgette Wilson - Melissa Margaret Marr
Chris Kattan - Watson Pritchet
Peter Gallagher - Donald W. Blackburn
Jeffrey Combs - Dr. Richard Vannacutt

Year - 1999

Score - 3 Howls Outta 4


DIRECTED BY
Victor Garcia

STARRING
Amanda Righetti - Ariel Wolfe
Cerina Vincent - Michelle
Erik Palladino - Desmond Niles
Tom Riley - Paul
Andrew Lee Potts - Kyle
Steven Pacey - Richard Hammer
Jeffrey Combs - Dr. Richard Vannacutt

Year - 2007

Score - 2 Howls Outta 4



In the late 1950s, horror films heavily relied on the supernatural - to be more specific, ghosts and the spiritual world. One of these films was William Castle's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, starring the legendary Vincent Price. It was a 1959 B-movie extravaganza with hokey effects and a story that bordered on having the viewer use as much disbelief as possible. It was seen as a cheesy classic by many at the time, meaning that it would eventually be remade for a newer generation.

After 1996's mega-success of SCREAM that revigorized the horror genre and made it cool and profitable again, ghost stories came back with a vengeance. First was the horrible remake of the classic THE HAUNTING. You also had a remake of TH13TEEN GHOSTS as well that didn't do so well. The best ghost remake of all was HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. It did what a remake should do: improve on what was wrong with the original, while at the same time making a film that stands on its own merit by bring something new and different to the table. The movie did pretty well at the box office, making more than half its budget back.

In 2007, a sequel was filmed that went straight-to-DVD called RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. It sort of continues the story that the remake had started. But really...does HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL need a franchise? Is the sequel so bad that it went right to DVD, or is it one of those rare occasions that the film is actually good? I would tell you now but ghosts are forcing me to write a double review. And whatever Casper wants, Casper gets.

PLOT
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is about a millionaire amusement park magnate named Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) who throws a party for a wife he can't stand at all (Famke Janssen). The party takes place at the House On Haunted Hill, which is really an asylum where bad things happened due to one Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs) many years ago. Steven's guest list was changed behind his back by supernatural forces, instead inviting five people (Chris Kattan, Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, Bridgette Wilson, and Peter Gallagher) who are desperate for the million dollar check Price is offering to anyone who stays the night inside the asylum and survives it. Strange things begin to happen within the asylum as guests disappear one-by-one. Some believe Price is setting it all up to get revenge on his wife, not realizing fast enough that ghosts of those who died in that asylum are getting their revenge.

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL continues the story from the remake as the sister of one of the survivors from HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is caught up with the insanity that goes on at House on Haunted Hill. After not believing her sister's rantings about the House, Ariel (Amanda Righetti) is shocked when someone kills her nutty sister. Meanwhile, a professor (Steven Pacey) and his younger girlfriend/assistant (Cerina Vincent) are looking for a lost statue that has the power to turn ordinary people into evil bastards. They're not the only ones looking for this statue as a rogue grad student named Desmond (Erik Palladino) breaks into Ariel's house with a bunch of goons, kidnapping her figuring she knows where the statue is. Ariel and her lover Paul (Tom Riley) are caught up in Desmond's plan as they enter the House on Haunted Hill to find the statue. However, Dr. Vannagutt (Jeffrey Combs) and the uneasy spirits that live at the House lock them all in for the night, intent on killing them all.

REVIEW
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is one of the better horror remakes to have come out. It took the really silly and campy nature of the original Vincent Price version and really makes the story serious and quite creepy. In the original, we're never really sure if ghosts are responsible for the deaths inside the house. In the remake, they're in-your-face and have no qualms getting revenge on those who trespass on their property. These ghosts don't play!

The direction by William Malone is really quite good. The man has a lot of visual style and paces the action and situations of the film well. It's quite honestly like watching an amusement ride for 90 minutes with its twists and turns. He nicely builds tension and suspense. His direction of the scene where Geoffrey Rush is trapped in that room all by himself and weird images start to appear literally bugged me out when I first watched it back in 1999 inside a movie theater. You kind of get caught up in it and that's the sign of a competent director. I also liked the scene where Bridgette Wilson's character looks through her video camera and sees ghosts that are not visible to the human eye. Pretty freaky stuff and well shot.

The CGI was decent. I did like seeing the ghosts who had heads that shake like a Polaroid picture. And the scene with Geoffrey Rush again is quite a spectacle, thanks to the SFX team on this film. I did feel that the last CGI ghost towards the end was a bit too fake looking for my tastes. It looked more cartoonish than anything and wasn't really scary at all. But besides that, I was pleased.

Too bad most of the characters weren't fleshed out or even likeable to the point that we cared about them. I mean, I didn't even know what most of these people did for a living and there was so way too much exposition going on here. Why not show us what's going on instead of telling us what's going on? It would be more effective. They were too busy scheming against each other and yelling instead of finding a way out of the damn house. No wonder the ghosts wanted them all dead.

The acting was good for the most part. Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen were excellent as the married couple who couldn't stand each other. Rush, who was obviously inspired by Vincent Price's character in the original [even the character's name is Price], hams it up proudly and makes for quite the charismatic character. He's actually pretty funny in this film. Famke Janssen plays the uber-bitch to a tee, making me want to have my animalistic way with her. Hot bitches rule and Janssen is no exception!

Chris Kattan is also a highlight as Watson Pritchet. He has great comic delivery and timing, making me laugh every freakin' time he was on the screen. He was probably the character I sympathatized with the most out of anyone in this film. Everyone else did their job well. Ali Larter screams and runs well. Not much of a part really. Taye Diggs let his good looks do the work for him. Bridgette Wilson was totally wasted in the film. Too bad because I kind of dig her. And Peter Gallagher has great eyebrows. You also get cameos from Lisa "Stay" Loeb and James "Spike" Marsters in the beginning. Not a bad cast really.

I do have problems with the film, however. One, how do a group of people suddenly get separated as they're walking together? I mean, it happens quite frequently in this film. Also, I would like to know how ghosts are able to travel through the internet and change guest lists for birthday parties. Aren't these ghosts from the 1930s? They're quite savvy and seem to travel well through phone lines. I just thought these ghosts were TRAPPED inside the House on Haunted Hill? I guess that makes too much sense! Now I know who's sending me those "Penile Implant" spam e-mails I always get. Are they trying to tell me something? Also, how in the hell do the survivors get down from their escape route at the end? I guess the Coast Guard was sailing right by. Hmmm...

As for the sequel, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a pretty decent straight-to-DVD film that's not as intense or creepy as the original but does what it needs to do well. Is it necessary? No, not at all. But I was entertained by it.

The direction by Victor Garcia isn't really up to par with William Malone's, but he does pace the film well and shoots every horrible situation nicely. The film never drags and there's always something happening in the film, which is perfect for a horror film. Can't really say nothing more other than that. It's an average effort by Garcia that won't make you turn off the DVD, but it won't impress you visually either.

The CGI was decent in this film as well. The ghosts didn't look half-bad and the death scenes were actually pretty cool, I gotta admit. You get a fridge smashing someone's head. You get some dude being used as a wishbone via ghosts pulling sheets tied to all of his limbs. It's like watching someone play Mortal Kombat and using Fatalities on their opponents. They're hardly original but I enjoyed watching them anyway.

I think what this film has over the remake is a bit more characterization. We pretty much have an idea who most of these characters are and why they're at the House. It helps that some of the actors are really quite good for a straight-to-DVD feature. Amanda Righetti as Ariel had me from the start. She was tough, smart, and didn't take shit from anyone. My kind of gal. Erik Palladino was also good as the villain. He has this frat boy way about him, but it worked for me here. He seemed to be enjoying his bad guy role and I enjoyed him in the role. Everyone else was pretty much stereotypical types. Cerina Vincent was the slutty, big boobed girl who had no idea what the word "loyalty" means. Can't trust those ex-Power Rangers. Tom Riley as Paul was the token boyfriend. Bland and pretty. Not much else. Andrew Lee Potts as Kyle tried to be funny, but failed to make me laugh. He reminded me of Jason Behr but with less talent and more goofy looking. At least he didn't annoy me. Steven Pacey as Richard Hammer was actually okay. He had this aura of knowledge and experience about him. As a professor, it worked to his advantage. And Jeffrey Combs is back as Dr. Vannacutt, but he doesn't have any lines. However, he is quite a presence in the film and it works well. The dude scares me anyway. Fuckin' RE-ANIMATOR...

Honestly, this film isn't needed at all. I really don't even know why it was made to begin with. It doesn't add anything new to the horror genre. It is a watchable film but I could have been watching something else that was much better. At least there's a menage-a-trois lesbian scene. How many films other than softcore and hardcore porn movies can say they have that? Probably the highlight of the film for me! Oh, and the after credits sequence with the topless blonde chick on the beach. I wasn't complaining!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE GETTING CUT UP BY DR. VANNACUTT

1. The patients attacked the cruel hospital staff. That's when you know your current health insurance rates ain't cutting it.

2. Peter Graves hosts a show that's similar to RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT. I'm sure he'd rather be watching gladiator movies than telling about a haunted house.

3. Chris Kattan tries to his hardest to convince everyone that the house is alive in vain. Why no one listen to the Mango? Why does everyone think he's homo-gay?

4. Steven Price's assistant had his entire face missing from his head. Looks like Nicholas Cage and John Travolta are rehearsing for their next film together!

5. Peter Gallagher got scalped to death by his woman. If Ryan Atwood and Seth Cohen were around, this bullshit would have never happened.

6. Man is always drawn to the dark side. And Darth Vader is my father. I was wondering what happened to my hand! Damn!

7. People who claim to see ghosts should be on Prozac. Same goes to people who think Lynne Spears is a great mother. Eat that, Dr. Phil!

8. Art can be theraputic. It soothes the mind. That explains Vincent Van Gogh cutting his ear off. So relaxing!

9. Always use clean sheets. Or else they'll attack you and play wishbone with your sorry ass. And believe me...their wish will come true.

10. Taking the statue out of the house would stop the souls from suffering inside the house. Too bad it won't happen without a fight. Same with trying to steal Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Oscar. He'll try to kill you because we all know he ain't getting another one anytime soon.

THE FINAL HOWL
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a good remake that actually compliments and respects the material it was based on, while adding new elements to create a creepier atmosphere. Even with its many flaws, the film still works a lot better than it ought to. A good haunted house flick. RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is an average remake that doesn't change the horror genre or add anything to it. But it's quite watchable with some decent performances and some cool looking death scenes. And don't forget the Hot Lesbian Action! Apparently there's another sequel being made called THE REVENGE OF VANNACUTT. While I enjoy Jeffrey Combs, is this franchise really necessary? Oh well...I'll probably be watching that film anyway.

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