Appellate Judge Tom Becker wants to return to a house that doesn't have this DVD on its shelf.
The house wanted me to return!
Not me, boy.
Now, I didn't see the 1999 version of House on Haunted Hill. I was somehow able to resist the siren-song lure of seeing actors like Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, and Famke Janssen sliced and smashed. As a child, however, I was weaned on the Vincent Price original, so I have a reference point for this remake.
At least, I thought I did. Like the 1999 remake of The Haunting—which determined haunted houses, in and of themselves, aren't scary enough, and threw in some business about child killing—the HHH remake upped the ante by setting everything in a shuttered insane asylum with a terrible past.
In this sequel, a bunch of people end up back at the house/asylum looking for the Baphomet Idol, which is some kind of valuable (and, we discover, evil) effigy associated with the Knights Templar. No one is actually making a Return to House on Haunted Hill, since the lone survivor of that little foray blows her brains out right at the start of this film, and it's left to her sister to battle the forces of darkness and generally act like an idiot.
Yes, act like an idiot. Now, I'm familiar with that whole horror-movie theory, how if people didn't act like idiots, they'd use logic to survive and there'd be no movie, but the group on display here ratchets up the idiot quotient to uncomfortable levels. Camp Crystal Lake is a Mensa colony by comparison.
These characters do unfathomable things before even setting foot in the Asylum on Haunted Hill, including kidnapping the editor of an apparently high-profile magazine because her sister might (or might not) have told her something (or not). They kidnap her at gunpoint! With two muscle-bound, ex-professional-wrestling goons! And a blank-faced-and-horny lesbian! When we see this lineup of characters, we're not only tipped off as to who our first three victims will be, but we're reassured that our lust for a bit of girl flesh will be quenched by an encounter with the nubile dead.
Once at the house/asylum, we find there are basically two teams: the mercenary baddies, led by Desmond (Erik Palladino, The Thirst), who are there to find the idol (pronounced "bath mat" by the meatheads) and sell it for $5 million; and the non-baddies, led by Dr. Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey, Blake's 7), who's been searching for the blasted Baphomet for 20 years and thinks it belongs in a museum. Except for the three goons, everyone has some kind of relationship with everyone else, and if this were a movie in which character and plot mattered, these relationships might lead to something.
But this movie is concerned with showing gruesome demises and lots of quick cutting. Much of the action takes place in the basement of the asylum/house, so everything has that bleak and nasty industrial look. The supernatural stuff is ridiculous; people are randomly transported back in time to the horrible heyday of the asylum, while others just as randomly escape this fate. Since ghosts are not inhibited by time and space, they can pop up anywhere, but they still insist on chasing people rather than just popping up in front of them.
It's a shame this is all so shoddily done, because there could have been a fun movie here. The idea of a treasure hunt in a haunted house—not the steamy industrial basement of a haunted asylum—holds a lot of possibilities: different surprises in each room, outlandish clues, conniving characters, shifting loyalties, and so on.
Two of the extras actually set up the expectation that this is going to be an adventure/puzzle. "Character Confessionals" gives us all the players, individually, telling us a bit about themselves and why they are there, and offers a few clues about the action. "The Search for an Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer's Quest" is Pacey's character providing some background on the Baphomet idol. These extras are actually the best and most original part of the film; the rest is like a dinner-theater adaptation of Saw.
From a technical standpoint, Return to House on Haunted Hill looks and sounds fine. Apparently, a lot of work went into this—enough to justify a mind-blowing six minutes of end credits. But if you actually sit through these, you get a "clever" two-minute set up for a sequel! If you didn't see that coming (and the only reason I let the credits run was because I figured it had to be there), then you haven't seen enough derivative direct-to-video unscary predictable and boringly violent horror movies.
And that's probably a big gold star in your column.
Guilt just oozes from this like a rusty drip from a leaky pipe.
Shock treatments all around!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Character Confessionals
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