[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 3] Day 30 – Final Destination 2 (2003)

finaldestination22003a

Director: David R. Ellis

Cast: A.J. Cook, Ali Larter, Tony Todd, Michael Landes

Screenplay: J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress

90 mins. Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and some nudity.

 

Sequels are tough. Sometimes tougher than the original. Especially when it’s the first sequel of a big franchise, which Final Destination ended up becoming.

finaldestination22003b

Final Destination 2 begins on the first anniversary of the explosion of Flight 180. Kimberley Corman (A.J. Cook, TV’s Criminal Minds, Mother’s Day) and her friends are heading to Florida for Spring Break, but when she has a premonition of a major traffic collision, she inadvertently saves multiple lives. Now, though, she and the survivors are dying one by one, and the only person who can help her is the lone survivor of Flight 180: Clear Rivers (Ali Larter, TV’s Heroes, Resident Evil: Afterlife), who resides in a psychiatric ward where she can be safe.

Final Destination 2 makes the fatal error of breaking the rules of the first film multiple times and insinuating that there are ways to cheat death when it regularly breaks its own rules. Death’s motives and methods change drastically in the film. The decision to bring back Larter and series regular Tony Todd (The Man From Earth, Hatchet II) were good choices, but to play with a pre-established set of rules really messes with the series.

I personally didn’t like many of these characters who came off as caricatures of normal humans. Kimberley is a nice lead and Thomas Burke (Michael Landes, Burlesque, 11-11-11), the Deputy Marshal, is a nice male lead, but most everybody else is rude, unlikable, or generally cartoonish.

Final Destination 2 definitely ratchets up the body count and style of the first film in spectacular fashion, now if only we liked the characters enough. The screenplay from J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (TV’s Kyle XY, The Butterfly Effect) gives us little in terms of character development other than interesting but fizzly Rube Goldberg-esque deaths.

FINAL DESTINATION 2, Keegan Connor Tracy, 2003, © New Line
FINAL DESTINATION 2, Keegan Connor Tracy, 2003, © New Line

Final Destination 2 is a fun movie, but one that is picked apart quite easily. This movie has straight-up flaws, and most of them could be fixed by just understanding and respecting the mythology. Director David R. Ellis (Shark Night, Snakes on a Plane) would return to helm the fourth entry of this franchise to similarly misunderstood results.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wong’s Final Destination, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 29 – Final Destination (2000)

finaldestination2000a

Director: James Wong

Cast: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd

Screenplay: Glen Morgan, James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick

98 mins. Rated R for violence and terror, and for language.

 

Death comes to all of us. When it is your turn to die, it is your turn, and there is little that can be done about it. That’s the message we get from Final Destination, from director James Wong (The One, Dragonball: Evolution). The original idea for this film came from James Wong’s time as a writer on The X-Files. He envisioned the story as an episode from the wildly popular sci-fi television series. Unfortunately, the idea was scrapped several times and eventually was reformed into a feature film screenplay.

It tells the story of Flight 180 and its passenger Alex Browning (Devon Sawa, TV’s Nikita, Idle Hands). Alex has a premonition of the plane exploding upon takeoff, and forces himself and several other students from his field trip from the plane. The plane explodes and the seven survivors feel as though they just cheated death. They soon discover that you can’t cheat death for long, as the survivors are being picked off in the order they were supposed to die on the plane, but Alex starts seeing clues, and along with fellow student (Ali Larter, TV’s Legends, Resident Evil: Afterlife).

finaldestination2000c

The original film in this series is the best one, though it is still riddled with multiple technical and artistic issues. These characters are just not very smart. Alex keeps searching out clues and getting himself deeper and deeper with law enforcement as he tries to stop these crimes. He grabs murder weapons and tracks DNA all over crime scenes. He sees signs that clues him into the next death, yet at one point, he sees a man burning leaves and then assumes that a house will blow up. I like the idea of a magazine getting shredded and his friend’s name comes up, but the fire is a bit much. Then there’s the cops who believe that Alex is somehow capable of committing these crimes, like somehow orchestrating a bus hitting someone when they are surrounded by witnesses that could attest to his innocence. We have a character who believes that if it is his time, he should kill everyone else with him. I get it, these are students and teenagers, so they still have some learning to do, but these are dumb teens.

I like the performance given by Tony Todd (The Man from Earth, Hatchet II) as coroner Bludworth. It doesn’t amount to much more of a cameo appearance, but it is a classic horror film trope of the warning of death and dark times to come, much like Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th. He practically yells “Doomed! You’re all doomed!”

Wong’s directing is really nothing special. His cinematography is disappointing. The film has nice pacing though and moves along with ease, not stopping long enough for most of these issues to take away from the enjoyment of the film.

I do really enjoy the clues that Alex and Clear do not see. I like that there are numerous noticeable clues in the film that foreshadow events soon to come, many of them are ones that aren’t even pointed out by our main characters. There is even the inclusion of John Denver songs at many of the Rube Goldberg style deaths. If you didn’t know, Denver died in a plane crash and his music works as a calling card in many ways, a warning like Bludworth’s. I know I didn’t listen to his music for a while after seeing this film.

I also like the score of the film. It stays with you long after the film ends. It won’t win any major awards, but as far as horror scores go, not bad.

finaldestination2000b

So there you have it. Final Destination is far from perfect, but it is a lot of fun. I find that it still holds up now, 14 years later.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑