[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 29 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Director: William Malone

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan

Screenplay: Dick Beebe

93 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, sexual images and language.

 

I heard that House on Haunted Hill is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and I absolutely had to rewatch this film. The last time I interacted with this property was when I watched the sequel, Return to House on Haunted Hill, many years ago, so this was a perfect opportunity to revisit this 90s horror film.

Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, Final Portrait) is throwing his wife a hell of a birthday party by inviting some guests to the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane, a now-closed former asylum where the patients revolted and murdered most of the staff sixty years earlier. The invites have gone out, and guests have started to arrive. There’s only one problem. All of the guests who arrive are people that neither Stephen nor his wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand, Asher) had invited. Stephen and Evelyn each suspect each other of a murder plot, but Stephen’s not going to let his plan go south, and he offers each of the guests a million dollars for staying the night in the house. Evelyn has plans of her own for the night, but the House on Haunted Hill has plans for all of them tonight.

Let me preface everything I’m about to say here. This is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a bad movie. Like many of Dark Castle’s films from the late 90s/early 00s, House on Haunted Hill is super-cheesy and super-silly and super-dumb. There’s a whole lot of bad surrounding this film including an upping-the-ante from the original film’s over-the-top premise. The Stephen-Evelyn dynamic is so excessive throughout. House on Haunted Hill is batshit.

It’s also so-bad-it’s-good in a lot of ways. It’s a bad movie that is so much fun to watch for some of its elements. Let’s talk about the bad stuff that surprisingly works. I love Stephen and Evelyn upon a rewatch. Seeing them both suspect each other of murder while also plotting the very same thing is a lot of fun. I believe that Geoffrey Rush knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and he plays to it well. This is the strength of getting an actor like Rush to do horror. He gets the movie.

Chris Kattan (A Night at the Roxbury, TV’s Bunnicula) also kills it as Pritchard, the guy that is an exposition-machine/comic-relief for the film. He mixes his unhinged performance into the exposition and comedy and it’s just so crazy. He is perfectly cast in this film and becomes an equal to Rush’s Stephen Price.

I also like the idea of an all-consuming evil inhabiting the house is really cool. Some of the CG near the end of the film hasn’t aged well enough to work, but as a plot element, it’s still very fun. Many of the effects in the film still look pretty cool, especially how Dr. Vannacutt’s ghost doing that shaky-shaky effect, but the darkness effect is pretty bad.

So what doesn’t work in the film? Most of the remaining cast. Outside of Rush, Kattan, and Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, TV’s Grace and Frankie), no one in the film really know what film they’re in. We spend just as much time as possible with many of the other party guests, and the scenes they appear in go absolutely nowhere.

House on Haunted Hill is a movie that works despite all the bad things in the movie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a good movie, but it’s bad works pretty well if you see it from a certain point of view. I would suggest it as a solid 90s B-horror film.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 27 – [Happy 30th Birthday!] Shocker (1989)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, Cami Cooper, Mitch Pileggi

Screenplay: Wes Craven

109 mins. Rated R.

 

From 1987 to 1989, four horror films were released featuring killers who come back after dying in the electric chair. This was the last.

Brutal serial killer Horace Pinker (Basic Instinct, TV’s The X-Files) has been apprehended and is sentenced to death via electrocution, but on the fateful day, electrical issues and strange rituals combine to produce a hell of an accident, though Pinker still fries. Now, Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg, Very Bad Things, Mile 22), a young man who was able to assist in the capture of Pinker, discovers the murderer to be very much still active, living on as an electrical current able to inhabit other humans and use their bodies for vengeance. The only skill Jonathan has is in the form of strange visions accompanied by the ghostly visage of his dead girlfriend. Now, Jonathan will have to man up and stop Pinker from continuing his murderous rampage, or it’s lights out for him…

I’ve spoken about this before, but I firmly believe that Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) was a great director. That’s not exactly a hot take or anything, so here’s one: I don’t think he was a very good writer. Sure, he wrote some amazing work. He was great with ideas in the same way that George Lucas is. I just don’t think he really was able to get those ideas to work on the page. That’s not a slight or anything, but look at a film like Shocker, which has some really cool ideas but the story is a bit of a mess. There’s all these random things happening in the screenplay that are never followed up on. Why does Jonathan have visions of Horace? How exactly do they work? Why do all of his friends and his coach immediately believe his batshit theory? Why does his dead girlfriend keep coming back to help him? What exactly did Horace do to come back from the dead? He’s seen performing some sort of ritual, but we never hear about it afterward.

Beyond all that, the film is far too similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street. There are elements of dreaming and nightmares and dreamscapes in the film that feel a little too familiar. For the most part, these elements just made me wish I was watching Nightmare instead. Both Nightmare and Shocker have similar opening titles, disbelieving fathers, and power through dreams.

Mitch Pileggi is batshit as Horace Pinker. He’s all the parts of Freddy Krueger that became more prominent in the later sequels, especially the attempts at humor. I like how visceral he is, how brutish, but he just didn’t work in the way I hoped he would.

Speaking of batshit crazy, let’s talk about the television scene. It’s near to the end of the film, where Jonathan and Horace end up in a television set and are fighting across the different channels. It sounds cooler than the finished product, but it kind of fails where the fight sequence in They Live succeeds.

So there you have it. There are better Wes Craven films, but I have the feeling that some people will love how terrible this movie is. It just didn’t work for me. There’s too much all-over-the-place in this movie and I couldn’t connect with any of it. Just didn’t work for me, dog.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 22 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Grudge (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall, Bill Pullman

Screenplay: Stephen Susco

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.

 

The Grudge is 15 today! Not the original one. The English one. Is that a problem?

Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is living in Tokyo with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr, Dragon Wars: D-War, TV’s Roswell) and working as a care worker. When one of her coworkers doesn’t show up, she is assigned to care for Emma Williams, an older woman suffering from lethargy and dementia. While attending to Emma, Karen discovers something strange happening in the house. She hears noises and is seeing people that aren’t supposed to be there. She begins to unravel a strange mystery involving death, pain, grief, and a grudge upon the house, one that will not leave her alone.

I didn’t like The Grudge the first several times I elected to view it, but, being that it was coming up on the 15th anniversary and the upcoming sequel, I figured it was only right to try it one more time. So what’s changed this time, if anything? Well, I will say this: the first few times I watched the film, I didn’t find a whole lot to like, but this time, I actually found the mystery and story of the film quite engaging, but all that being said, it’s still not scary whatsoever. I still find the ghosts to be almost laughable and the sound design, while being important to the story, doesn’t work. The ASMR mouth sounds and the cat sounds being uttered by the ghosts is really not scary in the slightest.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is not doing anything special, and I really wish I’d gotten to see something better from her. I’m far more interested in the police officer character who gets involved in the story, but none of the main cast is given a lot to do. Jason Behr gives a mostly monotone reading of his dialogue. Truly, just about any part of the nonlinear story structure is better than Karen’s.

The Grudge may be fine for some, but I still didn’t think it provided enough of the thrills and excitement I was hoping for. I really want to like it, and I think that the story, the mystery, and especially the mythology is very strong in the film. The problem is that I’m just not feeling the central character arc of the film. I have to judge the film for what it is and what it wants to be. It’s just not scary, even with the same director as the original film. Go watch the original.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

800 Posts! Thank you!

Hey everyone,

for those of you that have been readers for awhile, you’ll know I like to celebrate the little moments, and I had one a few days ago when I published my review for Hobbs & Shaw. That review ended up being the 800th post for this site! It’s rather fitting because many of the Fast & Furious reviews I have written have been among the most popular reviews on the site!

I cannot thank you faithful and maybe first-time readers for tuning in, reading and contributing to the discussion. This has morphed from a hobby to a passion to a daily requirement for sanity, and it’s because of the kind words of so many of you that have helped with that.

All that being said, I’m going to leave a list of the most popular reviews and posts on the site since it started. Feel free to peruse and gander at your choosing.

 

  1. Turbo Charged Prelude (2003)
  2. Poltergeist (1982)
  3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
  4. Frankenstein (1994)
  5. Leprechaun (1993)
  6. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  7. The Thing (1982)
  8. Zootopia (2016)
  9. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  10. The Fly (1986)

Here’s hoping Hobbs & Shaw ends up on this this. Three of the Fast & Furious films have ended up on the most-read list, including a short film prequel to the second film. It always strikes me at how many people have looked at the Leprechaun posts I have done. It seems year-round that that post gets views and I don’t understand it, to be perfectly honest.

So there you have it. Thanks again for reading, even if only once. I truly appreciate all of you readers and I only ask that you help like, comment, subscribe and share to keep independent content creators like myself going. All film is truly subjective, so if you’ve never interacted on the site, I urge you to do so. If you loved a movie I hated, let me know your opinion, and if you hated something I really love, I want to know why. That’s part of what makes this part of movie fandom so special. Thanks again!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 26 [Happy 15th Birthday!] Open Water (2003)

Director: Chris Kentis

Cast: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein

Screenplay: Chris Kentis

79 mins. Rated R for language and some nudity.

 

Open Water is based on true events, but that doesn’t really make it good.

Daniel (Daniel Travis, Thank You For Smoking, Last Time Forever) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan, Beerfest, Good Bones) are a couple looking to get away from the stress of daily life. While scuba-diving deep in the open water, they are accidentally left behind. Now, they are forced to fend for themselves in the dangerous ocean water, fending off infection, exhaustion, and sharks.

Open Water is, I’m sorry to say, one of the most boring exercises in film. I can understand the idea of a bottle episode in the middle of the open ocean, but neither of our lead characters is compelling enough to carry the film. The inciting incident is derivative, the characters are given no obstacles to overcome, and they have nothing to do but complain and scream. The film comes to an abrupt end without any real catharsis and really, no ending worth talking about.

Open Water doesn’t work. The film isn’t exciting nor fun. It doesn’t feature anything of real merit. It’s just bad. Real bad.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 20 [Happy 40th Birthday!] Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Director: John DeBello

Cast: David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Costa Dillon

Screenplay: John DeBello, Costa Dillon, Stephen Peace

83 mins. Rated PG.

 

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Yeah, I can’t get the theme song out of my head.

Randomly, and seemingly without consequence, tomatoes have come to life and are attacking humans everywhere. They make screechy attack sounds as they group up to take humans down once and for all. The President has put together a team to combat the tomato menace led by Mason Dixon (David Miller, That Was Then…This is Now, Speak of the Devil). As the tomatoes and the humans mount for an all-out war, it’s up to Mason and his team to stop them by any means necessary.

I tried to nail down the best description of this film, but it is a rather loose plot. The paper-thin story is an excuse to zany and wacky jokes. From the pop song “Puberty Love” that plays throughout to a discussion of between generals about getting a medal in a three-legged sack race, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a more ridiculous precursor to better satires to come like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Some of the jokes land, some do not, and director John DeBello (Black Dawn, Happy Hour) appears to be just throwing goofs at the wall to see what sticks. I think he finds more success than expected simply by the sheer amount of jokes used.

Outside of the downright wacky, nothing in this film really works. The acting is absolutely atrocious, the writing is bland, and the lack of anything real for story just bored me to death. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes seems on the surface to be ripe for weird, comedic, and horrific action set pieces. And then, there aren’t any good action scenes. Nothing really works. That’s the cardinal difference between this and better satires. Films like Airplane! and Young Frankenstein have good stories and likable characters. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is missing key storytelling elements.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is, thankfully, short enough to get one good viewing out of. Get some friends and beers and you might just get a laugh or two. Lower your expectations…significantly, and you may just find some fun in there.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 14 – [Happy 30th Birthday!] Pumpkinhead (1988)

Director: Stan Winston

Cast: Lance Henriksen, John DiAquino, Kerry Remsen, Jeff East

Screenplay: Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani

86 mins. Rated R.

 

Pumpkinhead felt like it was going to be a bigger thing. It felt like a franchise starter, and yet, the first sequel was more shoehorned in, and we didn’t get any other films until the SciFi Network released two sequels in the mid-aughts. Now, the franchise lays dormant, a mistake to be sure, even if the first film, which celebrates 30 years since its release today, has some issues to be sure.

When Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen, Hard Target, Mom and Dad) experiences a horrific personal loss due to an accident involving some teenagers on vacation, his anger and rage fuel him to search out a supposed witch in the forest by his shop. When Harley begs her for vengeance, the witch helps him call forth Pumpkinhead, a boogeyman of sorts who goes after the teenagers one by one.

First-time feature director Stan Winston (A Gnome Named Gnorm), known for his special effects work, capably directs this film with some nice cinematography and editing to hold it all together. One area where Winston fails is with pulling strong performances from most of his cast. Lance Henriksen is an exception here, and with his strong dedication to his character (he actually got fake dentures and designed the look of Ed Harley), he stands out here as a broken man looking for vengeance, and then, eventually redemption.

No, where acting fails is with these teenagers. I refuse to believe that anyone would hang out with Joel (John DiAquino, No Way Out, The 60 Yard Line) in public. This character, even before the reveal that he is a criminal, is just all-around an awful human being, and very out of place with the rest of the teens. The other performances from our teenage biker gang just do not work.

There’s some issues with pacing here, as it takes half the film to really get going. Once it does, it moves along quite nicely, but it just trudges along the first half. Editing saves it here as the film is a tight 86 minutes, but I feel like it can only do so much.

The visual look of the film is quite impressive. I felt while watching that I was a part of the world that Winston puts before the camera. The design and visual flair of the cinematography is quite special, and I cannot fail to mention the extremely unnerving titular creature, a demon personifying vengeance. The creature really helps expand the lore of the film quite nicely.

Pumpkinhead is flawed but still worthy of a nice trick-or-treat Halloween experience. The film is easily accessible and aided by some nice technical work. If you can get past some of the cringe-worthy acting, I think you can have a lot of fun here. Henriksen leads the pack here with an emotionally resonant performance that’s well worth your time.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

600 Posts! A Very Special Thank You!

Hey everyone, there are more of you reading this now than there were four years ago when I started this whole thing, and yesterday, Lady Bird became my 600th post here. I can’t believe it. I’ve been writing here for some time and I can’t thank you readers enough for all that you have contributed through kind words, thoughtful discussion, and interesting insight. I wouldn’t be here without you!

Here’s a look back at the most popular reviews or pieces that we’ve been a part of here.

  1. Turbo Charged Prelude (2003)
  2. Poltergeist (1982)
  3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
  4. Frankenstein (1994)
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  6. Leprechaun (1993)
  7. The Thing (1982)
  8. Santa Claws (2014)
  9. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  10. Bad Boys (1995)

It’s still a little crazy that the most-looked at review on this site is for a short film prequel to 2 Fast 2 Furious, but to each his own.

And now, for one more thing. There is nothing I would love more than for your continued contribution to the discussion. All film is subjective, after all, and I started this site to start those discussions. If you agree with me on a certain film, speak out, let me know what you love about it. If you disagree, let me know your opinion.

If you have anything you’d like to see in the future, please feel free to contact us here at almightygoatmanreviews@gmail.com. We would love to hear from you.

 

Thanks,

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 14 – [Happy 10th Birthday!] Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli

Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs

Screenplay: Oren Peli

86 mins. Rated R for language.

 

Ah, Paranormal Activity, the franchise that killed Saw. I’m over it. I’m so over it.

The original Paranormal Activity has a fairly straightforward plot: A couple, Katie (Katie Featherston, Psychic Experiment, TV’s Solace for the Unloved) and Micah (Micah Sloat, The Death and Return of Superman) get a video camera to document the eerie happenings at their home. The strange activity seems to be centered around Katie, and Micah, having only just hearing about it, decides to attempt to capture it on film. What follows is a found-footage collection of the three weeks the camera is on.

The frights in Paranormal Activity are interesting, unusual, and a little intense at times. Director Oren Peli (Area 51) shot the film in 10 days using a script that was essentially a guided outline and created the characters alongside Featherston and Sloat to create as much realism as possible. Katie is depressed and sad as the movie shows the horrors she has experienced most of her life while Micah is kind of an asshole as he fails to see the toll inflicted on someone he supposedly loves. Neither performance is particularly exemplary but they are serviceable enough.

Credit should be given to Paramount Pictures and director Steven Spielberg for shepherding the film to release, as well as the horror fans who requested it in their homes. Paramount went all in on the finished product, opting to show the finished film without title cards or any credits in fact, playing up to the gimmick, and Steven Spielberg suggested a more marketable ending that this writer actually prefers to the original, if only slightly.

Overall, Paranormal Activity would be a good starting off point for horror fans. It is creepy but not altogether scary, and its thrills do not rely heavily on gore or dread but more a fun atmospheric ambiance. In fact, this is a film that is better outside of the theater, so gather some friends, turn the lights off, and enjoy!

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑