[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.

Taken (2008)

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Director: Pierre Morel

Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Famke Janssen

Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

93 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.

 

There was a time, not too long ago, when Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, A Walk Among the Tombstones) was not thought of as an action star. Think about that. Think about it.

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Bryan Mills (Neeson) is a retired CIA agent who spends his time in solitude while trying to build a relationship with daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lockout, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). When Kim wants to go to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy, TV’s Arrow, Monte Carlo), Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, TV’s Hemlock Grove, X-Men) is fine with it, but Bryan has his reservations. When his fears become true and Kim and Amanda are kidnapped in Paris, Bryan’s old CIA skills rise up and take over as he heads to France to find his daughter and get her back…and get revenge on those who took them.

Taken was a bit of a surprise for me. While I liked Liam Neeson from his work in Batman Begins and Schindler’s List, I never thought much on the one-man army concept working for him. I was wrong, and am happy for it. This is a nonstop thrill ride of immense proportions. Neeson kills it as Mills, and director Pierre Morel (From Paris with Love, District B13) keeps the film rollicking along. It isn’t perfect, but it is one of the better films to be dumped during the dry season for action films.

There isn’t anything truly special about the cinematography or the editing, the music is pretty nice but nothing amazing, and the direction isn’t going to win any major awards, but the film is still a fun time carried by a veteran performer and his ability to win fans over.

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Taken is pretty great, but not entirely well-made. See it for Neeson. See it. For Neeson. Yeah.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

 

After X2: X-Men United, the superhero series was invigorated and raring to go again. Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, so Brett Ratner took over the chair and creative control of the franchise. This has often been seen as a bad idea. Brett Ratner, not to be blunt, is terrible.

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It’s the story of the mutants dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye, Taken 3) in the previous film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) appears on the surface to have gotten over her death and has taken on a more important role within the school alongside Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, TV’s Extant, Cloud Atlas). Meanwhile, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass) has been recruiting new mutants to join The Brotherhood in the fight against the government, which has created a new treatment or “cure” for mutants. Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano) is interested in the cure, but her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore, TV’s The Following, Frozen).

There a lot of moving plot points in this movie, but the script is far too weak to fully explore them all. There are multiple times when dialogue is unreal, too much exposition is given (or sometimes, not enough), and characters are doing things that betray their character traits.

The actors are trying to perform to a weak script, and most of them do as well as they can, but Brett Ratner focuses too much on trying to be a spectacle, often sacrificing character moments under piles of action. Now, the action is good, and leads to a solid climax which is handled nicely, but we have a conflict of style. On one hand, we have the previous film, which establishes a seriousness and a stake in what happens. On the other hand, we have a goofy style which pushes against and a more-comic-booky look to the film, something that was handled much better in the prequel X-Men: First Class.

While the climax is handled nicely, Ratner chooses to play down the denouement, which, considering this was supposed to be a closing of the trilogy, is what really kills this movie. We have so many plot threads untreated and ultimately unthreaded that it set the series up for several films of trying to fix the damage, before finally X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to do.

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This isn’t the worst X-Men movie of all time. That honor is currently held by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an epic letdown from X2, and served to topple the franchise for a couple years.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

 

X-Men was a very popular comic book adaptation, especially for the time period, when those movies hadn’t really been doing well. I originally wasn’t a major fan of the original X-Men, but I honestly don’t think I got it. I didn’t really know the X-Men mythos, so when X2: X-Men United came into the fold, and I saw the trailer, featuring a creature I would come to know as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, TV’s The Good Wife, The Smurfs 2) trying to assassinate the President, that I knew I had to see this movie.

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X2: X-Men United continues the story six months after the original film, and follows the mutants as they deal with a mutant attack on the President. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) is looking for his origins in Alaska. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return) has continued to teach at his school, and spends free time playing chess with imprisoned Magneto (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass). Meanwhile, William Stryker (Brian Cox, Troy, Her) has taken the attack in the White House personally, and chooses to round up the mutant children at Xavier’s school and keep them imprisoned, and Wolverine finds that he may have more connections to Stryker than he knows.

If X-Men woke up the superhero genre, X2 proved that superhero movies can actually be about something while also being great films in general. Without X2, we may not have had the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.

It also proved that people can perform as superheroes. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan carry this film and drive its story nicely as two friends with very different compasses who must unite against a common enemy in Brian Cox’s Stryker, who also lends his seasoned expertise to the film. Hugh Jackman has also honed his skills as a performer with Wolverine.

Singer’s directing and the film’s editing give us multiple branched out storylines that all come together very well for a powerful and shocking climax that creates ripples for the series for several films to come.

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X2: X-Men United was the best film in the series up until this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it has aged very well, becoming one of the most notable superhero films ever.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X-Men (2000)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn, Ray Park, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: David Hayter

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

 

This is where it all begins. Remember when you saw Spider-Man or Batman Begins or even Iron Man. The Modern Superhero Revolution. It all started 14 years ago when Bryan Singer brought together a star-studded cast and a great script from David Hayter.

X-Men follows Logan (Wolverine) and Marie (Rogue), two lost souls in the near-future, as they team up with Professor X and his heroic team of mutants to stop Magneto from turning human beings into mutants like him. It is a more complex story than I originally expected, with a nice amount of twists and turns.

This cast is one of the main reasons that this film not only succeeded, but also developed the superhero genre into more than cheese. We have Hugh Jackman in his first portrayal as Wolverine, a character who be a staple on the franchise and appear in every installment. Logan is a complex character, and Jackman gets to flex those claws a lot more in later installments, but this is a nice introduction to the character. We get to see the softness in his relationship with Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano). We also get a nice strong turn from Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas, The Call), still somewhat early in her career (we are talking pre-Bond girl Berry here), as Storm.

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Nice work should go to Famke Janssen and James Marsden as Jean Grey and Cyclops, respectively. Their relationship in this film offers some conflict to be mined, and Marsden is portraying Cyclops for crying out loud, not an easy sell, as the character could have just come off as silly.

All these able performances are under the powerhouse work of Bromance buddies Patrick Stewart (TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ice Age: Continental Drift) and Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Stardust). These two classically-trained actors bring such depth to the characters of Professor X and Magneto. They carry the film and up the ante for future comic book adaptations.

The soundtrack in this film is absolutely iconic now. I find myself humming it and getting pumped up at the same time, very nice work.

The special effects do seem a bit dated, but there isn’t much to be done about that.

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This is a great start to a franchise and every single superhero movie since owes something to Bryan Singer’s incredible saga. You really feel like you know the characters from this original outing alone. Easily one of the most impressive superhero blockbusters of recent memory.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

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