Return To House On Haunted Hill Review
The house on haunted hill has not rested since the riot in 1931 when Dr Richard Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs) and his staff were murdered by the patients in a fire. His unique methods for dealing with the mentally ill were also brought to an end that night but the ghosts of those who died there remain. Eight years ago, theme park owner and billionaire Steven Price, his wife and guests were murdered during a party in the abandoned hospital. Only one survived, Sara Wolfe, who claimed that the asylum was haunted by those who had died there in 1931. But no one believed her.
This year, Sara's sister Ariel (Amanda Righetti) is the editor of a successful fashion magazine. However, during a photoshoot with Paul (Tom Riley), she receives a phone call from her mother telling her that Sara, who was haunted by the events of her night in the house on haunted hill, has committed suicide. She asks that Paul drop her at Sara's house that night. Inside the building, Ariel notices that Sara has amassed a lot of news cuttings about archeologist Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey). Elsewhere, Hammer, having successfully delivered a speech on the use of satanic symbols throughout history, is having sex on the desk of his office with his assistant Michelle (Cerina Vincent). Interrupted in flagrante by Kyle (Andrew Lee Potts), the three of them leave for Sara's apartment and, meeting Ariel there, warns her about an object that is reputed to grant its owner great power, the Baphomet Idol. He tells her, though, that others may be in pursuit of the Baphomet Idol and that she ought to be careful.
Ariel and Hammer leave the apartment, she to her own home, he to Vannacutt's hospital. Arriving at her own house and finding that Sara has posted her a mysterious diary, Ariel says goodnight to Paul but before he can drive away, he notices headlights in his rearview mirror. A knock at the door interrupts Ariel as Paul is dragged into the house at gunpoint by Desmond (Erik Palladino) and his gang, who demand Vannacutt's diary, in which it is believed the doctor wrote down the whereabouts of the Baphomet Idol. As Desmond tells Ariel, he's already killed one person today over it and left it looking like a suicide. He won't hesitate at doing it again. Pointing the gun to the truck outside, Desmond suggests that Paul and Ariel accompany them to the asylum in search of the Baphomet Idol. There they not only meet Hammer and his assistants but the ghosts that have remained there since 1931. Once again, the sound of a distant mechanism rattles the windows as the house goes into lockdown and the first spirit twitches in the shadows.
Actually, twitching is about all these ghosts actually do. Like the spirits in 1999's House On Haunted Hill, itself a remake of William Castle's 1959 film, the various ghosts twitch, jitter and shake themselves about whilst being as threatening as balloons. Or indeed Emergo, the luminous skeleton that Castle had hover over his audience during screenings of his film; an audience that, as Michael Weldon described it, "[knew] what was going to happen [and] were well armed with candy boxes to throw at the battered and defenceless bones!"
Yes, indeed, we are once again presented with the kind of frightless ghosts that, since the watershed of The Ring, have dragged their greying and mottled skins out of televisions, cellars and, in the case of Pulse, Internet routers. However, I doubt if being frightened is actually the point of a Dark Castle film, which, I accept, is something of a problem when their forte is actually horror. They did reasonably well with The Reaping but Ghost Ship, Thir13en Ghosts and House On Haunted Hill are no more frightening than Wee Willie Winkie. Return To House On Haunted Hill begins reasonably well with a very icky soundtrack of fingers squelching through body parts but slows over the next fifteen minutes to outline the story, or what there is of it. With the slamming shut of the doors and windows with the lockdown, out come the ghouls, hiding in the shadows at first but soon daring enough to skitter into the failing light. Confirming the notion that, in spite of the 18-certificate, this is a horror movie for a crowd of fifteen-year-olds on Halloween night, there's an entertainingly gruesome set of murders, including Warren having his internal organs ripped out, Harue getting her face sliced off and Norris being quartered by bedsheets.
Those death scenes, though a fair part of what there is to enjoy about Return To House On Haunted Hill, do not tell the whole story. Instead, there are the moments of suspense when, after everyone splits up Scooby-Doo style to explore the asylum, the audience waits to see who'll die first. To keep teenage boys happy, a pair of ghostly lesbians lick, kiss and fondle one another to tempt Harue before revealing themselves as rotting corpses while cult movie fans will be reasonably happy at the return of Jeffrey Combs as Richard Vannacutt. However, the tone of the film is such that one need not actually watch very much of the film to know what is happening. At every turn and in the very short time she's actually in the film, Harue makes known her dislike of men and her being a lesbian so it was only a matter of time before lesbian ghosts appeared. Desmond is so thoroughly nasty that it's a given that while he will make it to the final reel, he won't survive. And the Baphomet Idol, by being the kind of McGuffin that will not only support this film but probably also a sequel, will not only survive Return To House On Haunted Hill but will wash up on a beach in a post-credits sequence, only to be found by a woman with very large breasts who has, moments before, removed her bikini. Which is exactly what happens.
All else is as you would expect. Then again, The Reaping aside, this is what Dark Castle Entertainment have been doing almost every year since 1999's House On Haunted Hill and while I can't say that I've bought any of these films on DVD, I'm sufficiently without shame to say that I've seen most of them. Of course, Halloween is coming and there are worse films you could be watching than Return To House On Haunted Hill. It is daft but it is also fairly good-humoured and if you've spent an evening in the company of Ghost Ship or Thir13en Ghosts and enjoyed it, Return To House On Haunted Hill will prove to be similarly entertaining, if not particularly frightening.
You might expect, given how this film is being premiered on DVD - or, as we might have said once upon a time, direct-to-video - that it turn up a bit shabby on the actual disc. That's not strictly the case with Return To House On Haunted Hill, which looks quite good but lacks a sharpness to the picture. Given how much of it happens at night, there are some demands made on the DVD that care is taken over the presentation of a picture that can be very dark and gloomy but Warner Premiere have done reasonably well in this regard. There are times when a small amount of artefacting is present in the darkness but this tends to be well-transferred onto DVD if not a particularly outstanding effort. No doubt, though, this aids CG that is sometimes very obvious so this slight softness may have been deliberately used to disguise some of the effects.
The audio track, though, is a very good one right from the very beginning. The sound presentation makes good use of all six speakers throughout with the action, particularly that of the flashbacks, jumping between the front and rear channels without a glitch. Dialogue is clear throughout as are the audio effects, leaving Return To House On Haunted Hill sounding very good albeit with a tendency to lurch into grinding nu-metal in the moments after every onscreen killing, which certainly isn't necessary.
Confessionals (16m06s): While it's possible, whilst watching a film, to look past the necessity of having a camera crew there to actually produce the movie, this is a different matter. These confessionals are really two-minute bits of film in which a character talks directly to camera from inside the house to explain their reasons for being there. So Ariel talks about her sister, Kyle laughs in the face of certain death and Harue appears very upset at having to work alongside a gang of men. Clearly intended to add character and background to the film, the producers would have been better off had they actually tried to bring some of these confessionals into the film rather than tack them on to the DVD release.
Quest For The Idol (2m52s): Appearing in character as Dr Richard Hammer, Steven Pacey would have us believe that the search for the Baphomet Idol was begun by his ancestor, Dr Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall. No doubt meaning something very rude in German, von Hammer-Purgstall was, we're informed, one of the first people to speak Arabic. The peoples of the Middle East may have something to say to Pacey as regards that but the actor is clearly much too busy trying to maintain some small amount of dignity as he, with the aid of wood carvings, drawings of the Knights Templar and the devil himself, explains the history of the Baphomet Idol.
Additional Scenes (7m53s): There isn't very much more here than was in the film. More, certainly of Kyle and Norris bickering like an old married couple, albeit one that sees Kyle threatening to stick a flashlight up Norris' ass, and more of Desmond splitting up the team but aside from a better explanation of why the shower room is important, there's very little here that demands to be seen.
Finally, there's a music video for Simple Survival (3m16s) by Mushroomhead, which I would say sounds like Slipknot but on account of the bad blood between the two bands, won't. Still, overalls, masks, nu-metal sound...they do everything but share a bed.