Thursday, November 1, 2007

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)

I remember when I first saw the remake of House on Haunted Hill in 1999. Sure, the original with Vincent Price is a classic, but I hold a special place in my heart for the one starring a very hammy Geoffrey Rush and some very creepy ghosts. The night I saw it was a dark and stormy Halloween. I was still in high school and my friend and I decided to ditch everyone else and go to the movies. We had to drive a very curvy and treacherous road to get to the theater (we lived in the boonies back then), so we were already kinda on edge. THEN we saw the movie, which scared the pants off of both of us. And THEN we had to drive BACK on that dark and desolate country road, with ominous trees on either side of us and curves hiding whatever might be lurking ahead…

So, since I enjoyed the experience of watching House on Haunted Hill and still count it as a guilty pleasure, I was eager to check out Return to House on Haunted Hill when it came out this October. Although it didn’t leave the impression that its predecessor did, Return to House on Haunted Hill was still a pretty fun and entertaining haunted asylum movie.

The film picks up a few years after the events that transpired in the first film. One of the only survivors, Sarah, apparently commits suicide and her sister Ariel (Amanda Righetti) is thrust into her sister’s world. It seems that Sarah was in the possession of a valuable journal that told of the location of a priceless statue of Baphomet. Ariel ends up with the journal, but soon a gang of goons kidnap her, her boyfriend (Tom Riley) and the journal and set out for the house. Meanwhile, a professor (Steven Pacey) who has been searching for the statue his entire life and his two assistants (Cerina Vincent and Andrew Lee Potts) also go to the house. The two groups run into each other, and the group of goons, led by Desmond (Erik Palladino), one of the professor’s old students, takes everyone hostage while they search for the statue. The labyrinth house used to be an asylum headed by the evil Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), who performed terrible experiments on the patients. The house and its unrestful inhabitants don’t particularly take to these new intruders, and soon goes into lockdown mode, effectively locking everyone within the cavernous structure. Can Ariel, the professor and the rest of the “good guys” get away from Desmond and his goons and retrieve the statue first? A better question to ask would be, can anyone get out alive?

Let’s get one thing straight before proceeding…this movie doesn’t have the same spooky atmosphere as the House on Haunted Hill, and it isn’t anywhere near as frightening, but I still found it pretty entertaining. The spooks that haunt the place are pretty creepy, and I especially loved Jeffrey Combs’ reprisal of his role as the scary Dr. Vannacutt. The vibe and monsters felt very much like Silent Hill, even with a few ghosts of those that were burned alive, like the ember babies in Silent Hill.

For direct to video, the special FX were handled quite well, though there were a few instances of shoddy CGI. I found the best scene to be when a few people fell into the murky hydrotherapy pool and a few very creepy things were waiting in the depths. Talk about tense! There are a few gory scenes, like a guy getting drawn and quartered so his body is completely pulled apart, a head splattering scene involving a very heavy fridge and a few others. While none of these feature any groundbreaking special FX, they are all done well and look great!

The acting is also strong (with a few exceptions) for a direct-to-video flick. These movie is blessed by the lovely Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever, It Waits), sexy Erik Palladino (Dead & Breakfast, The Thirst) and who can forget Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator)!? Combs doesn’t have a lick of dialogue, but his presence and menacing performance are enough! We also get a strong female lead, played by Amanda Righetti, who comes off very realistically. The rest of the cast (though they may only survive a few minutes) also does a commendable job.

On the negative side, the movie drags toward the beginning and feels like more of a heist movie than a horror movie. It takes the main characters about 30 minutes to get inside the house, and even when they are exploring its depths, there are several moments where the action is lulled and even brought to a standstill. The good news is that the movie is only about 80 minutes long, so these lulls don’t last long. I also thought the characters were under-developed and pretty generic. I did enjoy the storyline of the Baphomet relic, even though the storyline (and dialogue) got a little ridiculous at times. Still, I was able to overlook these negatives and sit back and enjoy the film.

Return to House on Haunted Hill doesn’t live up to its predecessor or the original Vincent Price House on Haunted Hill film, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a shot. This is not the greatest movie out there, but I don’t think it is trying to be. If you just want to shut your brain off and relax with a movie, Return to House on Haunted Hill is a good choice.

Available on Amazon!

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