Legend Films // 2009 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // May 22nd, 2009
"Acclaimed the super-shocker of the century!"
Since the demise of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the second captain of the Satellite of Love, Michael J. Nelson, has been out on his own making fun of movies. After a handful of pretty hilarious commentary tracks on legitimate DVD releases, he started a new venture: Rifftrax. Now he makes fun of movies via the power of the internet, allowing users to download audio files to play alongside DVDs they already own. That's a pretty nifty idea, especially when you involve other MST3k greats like Bill Corbett (who played Crow T. Robot) and Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo). For those of you who aren't too keen on downloading an MP3 file and syncing it to your movie, Nelson and Co. have started releasing their riffs on DVD. The movie currently on the chopping block is Vincent Price's cornball classic House on Haunted Hill.
The film itself is a wonderland of campy late-'50s horror, and it popularized (if not established) the "bunch of people invited to a haunted house" plot device. Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Price) has invited a group of seemingly random strangers up to a haunted mansion he's rented for the weekend. The guests are forced with deal with all sorts of crazed ghouls, murders, acid baths, booze, and snotty housewives all in the hope of getting $10,000 for surviving. That's not saying anything of the elaborate skeleton marionette that the movie is relatively famous for.
For as much as the film is considered a classic, it's also a public-domain piece of schlock ripe for the riffing. Rest assured, Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy are up for the challenge. They haven't lost their knack for cracking wise, and really capitalize on a movie that would have me laughing without a commentary track. The movie is practically begging for it, from the opening scene involving not one but two floating heads introducing you to the movie to the ridiculous climax at the acid pit in the basement. Their comments feel much looser than the MST3K days. This improvised feel means that the jokes aren't always as successful as before. Occasionally one of the riffers will go off on a tangent that simply isn't that entertaining. The whole setup is more off-the-cuff, for better or worse, which makes the commentary track feel like sitting around with friends as opposed to watching a television show that rags on movies.
On the technical side, Rifftrax: House on Haunted Hill is a mixed bag. The movie looks okay, but isn't anything terribly special. It's not a huge deal, as I don't expect any public-domain film to be all that great. What is odd, however, is the "rifftrack" itself: there doesn't seem to be any noticeable audio ducking in place. Usually during a commentary track, when the commentator is speaking the audio in the film lowers; unfortunately, this doesn't happen here. Instead you have Nelson and Co. speaking directly over the film at what seems like equal volume, which puts selective hearing to the test and more than a couple jokes to get lost in the din. It's a weird issue, for sure, and certainly one you could control if you were downloading the MP3 file from Rifftrax. With the DVD you just have to deal with it.
There aren't any special features with the disc, aside from being able to watch the movie without the commentary. If you don't own a copy of House on Haunted Hill, then consider this a gimmie. The disc also comes with a coupon for a free download of the rifftrack for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans should really consider themselves blessed right now, as pretty much every member of the venerable show is out there riffing everything to shreds. Between Joel Hodgson's Cinematic Titanic and Michael J. Nelson's Rifftrax, there's more than enough comedy to go around. If you were leery about getting into Rifftrax because of the technical hurdles of downloading files and syncing things up, this DVD release (and others, all fairly inexpensive) is an admirable substitute.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated