[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: The Final Chapter] Day 23 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Screenplay: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

81 mins. Rated R for language.

 

The Blair Witch Project cast quite the shadow upon release. I remember being much younger and everyone asking me, “Have you seen it yet?” Of course I hadn’t, but everyone else had. Even my brother, who never went to movies, saw The Blair Witch Project. The guy in front of him got sick, then asked a theater attendant for a mop to clean it up. It was pandemonium. I saw it after the hype and hated it. This wasn’t the greatest piece of horror cinema of all time like I’d heard. Naturally, I avoided the film for the next 17 years until the sequel Blair Witch arrived. This year, I thought I’d revisit The Blair Witch Project to see if my reaction has changed.

The Blair Witch Project projects itself as found-footage (one of the first films ever to fully sell itself as such) of three people: Heather (Heather Donahue, Boys and Girls, The Morgue), Mike (Michael C. Williams, Altered, Four Corners of Fear), and Josh (Joshua Leonard, If I Stay, Teenage Cocktail). Heather is a filmmaker chronicling the legend of the Blair Witch, a legend that exists in parts of Maryland. They vanished, leaving only this footage behind.

So, I didn’t hate The Blair Witch Project on this second go-around, but I still don’t think it’s a good movie. The film has a very interesting flavor and story, but it drags far too much for such a short feature. The three characters are neither likeable nor interesting, and I didn’t find myself all that worried about their survival. Modern found-footage has learned a lot from The Blair Witch Project, but as this was a relatively new subgenre, mistakes are made that hamper the whole experience.

I can’t deny the film’s impact, though. It held a Guinness World Record for Box Office Ratio by making back almost 11,000 times its budget. The cultural impact of the film was massive and actually convinced many viewers that the film was real (strange because the credits are quite apparent whereas other films like Paranormal Activity tried to hide it better). Fans flocked to Maryland to learn that they were indeed wrong. All three actors stayed in character for the entirety of the eight-day shoot unless one had to utter the safety word, taco. Altogether, this must have been a grueling eight days.

The Blair Witch Project deserves more recognition that I’ve given it, but it still isn’t a good movie. An amazing idea doesn’t automatically ensure a great film, and poor character development is the cardinal sin of this horror classic. Worth watching if you’ve never seen it, but I think I’m good for the next 17 years.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 18 – The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Director: Katt Shea

Cast: Emily Bergl, Jason London, Dylan Bruno, J. Smith-Cameron, Amy Irving

Screenplay: Rafael Moreu

104 mins. Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, brief strong sexuality and language.

 

Well, that was just…bad.

The Rage: Carrie 2 is the Carrie sequel that is more like a bad Carrie remake that shoehorns in a Carrie connection but is sadly a very bland ripoff of Carrie. Did I cover all the bases?

In The Rage: Carrie 2, we are introduced to Rachel (Emily Bergl, Blue Jasmine, TV’s Shameless), a teenager who is growing up in foster care years after mother Barbara (J. Smith-Cameron, Man on a Ledge, Christine) went batshit. Now, Rachel not a part of the cool kids and is picked on for being strange and a little emo before emo was really a thing. When Jesse (Jason London, Dazed and Confused, As Far as the Eye Can See) asks her out, Rachel doesn’t know what to think. He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t even know her, and what if it’s a trick? But what Jesse and the other kids don’t know is that Rachel is very special…and very dangerous.

The Rage is just terrible. It feels almost disrespectful to the original film to put such little effort into the sequel. Even bringing back Sue Snell (Amy Irving, Hide and Seek, Adam) from the original Carrie does nothing as she is introduced and then serves virtually no purpose. The background characters are flat, Rachel is not nearly as interesting as Carrie White was, and every mention of Carrie feels like you should just be watching the original, and that’s true.

This sequel is bad and not worth your time. Sure, it features a lot of stars of the 1990s teen fame like Eddie Kaye Thomas and Mena Suvari, but I’m guessing they all signed on to a Carrie sequel without actually reading a script. Screenwriter Rafael Moreu (Hackers) turns in a crummy little script that doesn’t even work as a ripoff. Yuck, it’s garbage. Stay away from Carrie 2.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Brian de Palma’s Carrie, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Fifth Day… Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)

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Director: Jun Falkenstein, Alex Mann, Bradley Raymond, Toby Shelton, Bill Speers

Cast: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Tress MacNeille, Corey Burton, Diane Michelle, Russi Taylor, Jeff Bennett, Alan Young, Shaun Fleming, Jim Cummings, Frank Welker, Bill Farmer, Kelsey Grammer

Screenplay: Charlie Cohen, Scott Gorden, Tom Nance, Carter Crocker, Richard Cray, Temple Mathews, Thomas Hart, Eddie Guzelian, Alex Mann

66 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, today we are going to look at Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, a collection of three holiday-themed tales narrated by the wonderful Kelsey Grammer (TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3). We will look at each separately.

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In “Donald Duck Stuck on Christmas,” the three young ducklings, Huey, Duey, and Louie wish Christmas could be all year. Their wish becomes true in a “Groundhog Day”-style tale about two much of a good thing. This tale is the second best of the three.

In “A Very Goofy Christmas,” Goofy tries to teach his son Max about Santa Claus, but after a disappointing Christmas Eve, Max doesn’t believe anymore, and in trying to convince his son, Goofy loses faith as well. Who can save them? This is the lesser of the stories.

In “Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi,” Mickey really wants to get a great gift for Minnie, but can’t afford it, so he trades his harmonica for the money and discovers the true importance in gift-giving.

I really liked the first story, but I found the far-too-many duck characters to be rather an annoyance. Goofy’s tale became rather tragic and had a tone very dissimilar to its fellow stories. As for the finale, it was easily the best capper to this triad of family fun.

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All in all, the animation is rather sketchy, or unsketchy (I’m not sure how sketchiness matches up on the animation scale). What I mean to say is, not great animation. The voice work (minus the aforementioned quacks) is good enough, and Kelsey Grammer’s enchanted narration holds the whole thing together, mostly. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is a nice little holiday excursion, but not something I feel I need to see in order to properly celebrate during the season. It is pretty okay, and I can see young children liking it, but it doesn’t have that staying power.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker

105 mins. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

 

I remember reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a kid. I remember the way it made me feel. It was a very unhappy and dreary story, as was expected to be. I remember my excitement at hearing that there was a new film version coming along in 1999. It was a new film from director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows), with whom I was already familiar with at a young age. I remember finding the film to be very different than the original story, much more convoluted than it needed to be. I wasn’t a great big fan of the film, though I remembered that it had several some really great moments. I thought I would look back on the film for its 15th anniversary and see if I felt any different about it.

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As it turns out, I still find numerous flaws with the film, but I feel as though it has aged very nicely over the past fifteen years.

It’s the story of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transcendence) as he hunts down a murderer in Sleepy Hollow who lops his victim’s heads off. Along the way, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci, Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), a woman he develops an emotional connection to even though she may have more to her past than he knows. The townspeople believe that the murders are being committed by The Headless Horseman, a mythical being who has been birthed from Hell to avenge his death.

This film looks pretty damn good for its age. I still find the lighting to be too little during some of the more menacing action sequences. I think it could use a bit more light in its scenes. I like Johnny Depp, pre-overused by Tim Burton here. Christina Ricci returns to the genre that made her famous in The Addams Family. I find her inert sensuality and innocence brings chilling ambience to her performance here. Then there’s Christopher Walken, who gets a lot less screentime as The Headless Horseman, but all the seem, he gives one of the most iconic and terrifying performances I have ever seen here. He is almost monstrous and beastly even as a humanoid spirit.

I also enjoyed the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki here. He definitely deserved the nomination from making this film feel like a Hammer film and gives homage to even older films of the horror genre.

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Of all the films in the Burton canon, this one feels more like the Burton we know and doesn’t tread very much new territory, but overall, I enjoy the film much more now, and part of that has to do with the awesome soundtrack and the screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker (even with an uncredited rewrite that messed with the pacing a bit). Tim Burton has done better, but he has also done worse, and Sleepy Hollow exists somewhere in the middle.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

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