Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Release Date: October 27th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: William Malone
Written by: Dick Beebe, Robb White
Based on: House On Haunted Hill by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combs, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, Peter Graves (cameo), Greg Nicotero (uncredited)

Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. He out-butchered Bundy, made Manson look meek.” – Peter Graves

Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched this but for some odd reason, it holds a special place in my dark heart. I’m not sure if it is due to when it came out and the effect of nostalgia or because I actually consider it to be better than the film it is a remake of, which almost feels sacrilegious to type because Vincent Price, that film’s star, is why I fell in love with horror to begin with.

Generally, I’m not a fan of remakes in the same way I’m not a fan of cover songs. I really feel as if these things should only exist if they can justify themselves by being better or at the very least, being an interesting new take on the source material they are borrowing from.

1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a really good example of a film that takes its inspiration from its predecessor and makes it something else without sacrificing what the original vision was. It’s not an easy task to achieve but Dark Castle really started out on a good foot with this, their first of a few classic horror remakes.

Ultimately, this takes the formula from William Castle’s classic haunted house tale and ups the ante in a way that is very ’90s. It’s more extreme, has a fair bit of good gore and it updates the concept into something contemporary for the time. It’s also more of a psychological horror film and goes places that the original one couldn’t. The scene in the hallucination chamber is well done and actually kind of terrifying, even for a horror aficionado like myself.

That being said, there are three key things that make this remake a solid one.

The first is the ensemble cast. For a horror film with slightly more than a half dozen main players, we have an assemblage of some really good talent. Everyone sort of plays a typical horror archetype but they are all really good at it. I like everyone in this, top to bottom, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the innocent and good character thrown into a literal hell or they’re playing the evil, conniving bastard with some sort of dastardly trick up their sleeve.

Frankly, as good as everyone is in their roles, Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen steal every single scene they’re in. I can’t say that they outclass and out act every other actor here but they just rise to a different level and they seriously look like they are enjoying hamming it up in this twisted movie.

The second thing that makes this film work is the atmosphere. This isn’t the house from the original film. Instead, we’re trapped with these characters in a burned out art deco styled fortress of the 1930s, which was used as an insane asylum ran by an evil and sadistic doctor that used to butcher his patients.

Beyond that, the sets are incredible and the art direction in this film was magnificent. I really dig the lighting, the visual effects, the general cinematography and just about everything visual. The practical effects are great and even if the CGI feels dated now, it works for what this is and it doesn’t take you out of the picture like some of the CGI you’d see from this era. The Lovecraftian inspired blob of spirits is actually kind of cool and it works tremendously well with the tone of the film.

The third thing that works wonders is the score. The music is a great mix of a classic horror movie soundtrack and ’90s era industrial styled instrumentals. The film even features Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”, which adds another level of dread and atmosphere to the already effective presentation of the picture.

I’d like to give credit to the director, William Malone. He managed this project well and I have to give credit where it’s due, especially since I don’t like the other films that I’ve seen of his: Creature, FeardotCom and Parasomnia. But maybe I will give those movies a re-watch soon, as it’s been a long time.

When this came out, it was a film that critics hated but I remember most people enjoying it. It’s got a ’90s campiness to it but it’s far from comedy and I’d say that it’s aged well. It’s certainly better than what the modern standard seems to be in the horror genre.

I think that I’ll revisit Dark Castle’s Thirteen Ghosts remake soon, as it has been a long time since I’ve seen it but I had a good experience with it, back in the day. I may also finally watch the sequel to this film. I heard it’s nowhere near as good but with this fresh in my mind, I’d like to take another trip to the haunted asylum.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Also known as: Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: Insurgence, Resident Evil: Rising (working titles)
Release Date: December 13th, 2016 (Tokyo, Seoul premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Paul Haslinger
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy, Iain Glen

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, Screen Gems, 106 Minutes

Review:

“We’ve played a long game, you and me, but now it’s over.” – Dr. Issacs

I think that the things I’m looking for in these movies are different from what others are seeking. The reason I say that is that I’ve heard really bad things about this chapter in the series yet this was the best movie out of them all, as far as I’m concerned.

I think that the extended break mixed with the experience of what worked and what didn’t over the course of the five previous films, allowed Paul W.S. Anderson to weave his best tale yet and frankly, this one surprised me and took things in a direction I wasn’t anticipating.

Also, I watched all of these movies over the course of a week and didn’t have a decade and a half to ponder this series, its direction and the reveals that each chapter brought to the series as a whole.

As an action movie with a lot of horror and sci-fi thrown in, this was satisfying. Also, it did give the audience fan service but it didn’t trip over itself like the previous movie, which was bogged down by too many cameos and a mostly incoherent plot.

By this point, I’ve accepted the flaws that bothered me in the earlier movies. Six deep into this series and some of those flaws have really become tropes. Especially the Hong Kong style wire work during fight scenes, the imperfect CGI and the overabundance of green screen scenes. In regards to the CGI, it does get better with this movie.

I liked how this film was structured and the longer running time gave it a bit more room the breathe. It felt like it had more of a three act structure than the other chapters. First, you have the beginning where Alice wakes up in D.C., gets her mission and then runs into trouble on her way back to Raccoon City. Then you have a second act where she and a group of heroes defends Raccoon City from a literal zombie army. The third and final act sees Alice and some of the survivors storm the Hive to end the Umbrella Corporation once and for all.

The plot isn’t complicated but it’s well layered, is more dynamic than some of the other RE films and it has a good MacGuffin with a satisfying ending that leaves the series on a hopeful note, as opposed to the doom and gloom each previous film left you with. To be honest, I’d like a seventh film featuring Alice on her last adventure before the Earth resets. But the ending is still fine on its own.

Seriously, I am baffled by this movie. It shouldn’t have been as good as it was, all things considered. Maybe the fifth one set the bar really low and I didn’t expect much from its follow up. But again, this is my favorite Resident Evil film in the series.

Also, zombie dragons.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

Also known as: Resident Evil 4 (working title), Resident Evil: Afterlife: An IMAX 3D Experience (IMAX version)
Release Date: September 2nd, 2010 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, Screen Gems, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You weren’t too hard to find. Our satellite system is still operational, and there aren’t too many people flying now days. Besides, I always knew you would be drawn to your friends. Loyalty – Highly overrated.” – Albert Wesker

Well, I’m now four films deep into this franchise that I never watched and as I said in an earlier review, I’ve only ever played the first video game in its entirety. That being said, I know a lot of hardcore Resident Evil fans don’t really like what these movies did with the property but I am not bound by those same biases.

So seeing this, as its own film, without much knowledge on what this movie series is trying to tap into or borrow from, I thought that this was actually another decent chapter in the series. I’m surprised by that, as I figured these wouldn’t be very good and that they’d quickly drop off into pure shit pretty quickly.

While I like parts 2 and 3 more than 1, I thought that this was more on par with the quality of 1 and maybe a hair bit better. Paul W.S. Anderson has got his ducks in a better row here, even if they aren’t still perfectly lined up. But I think he’s learned from the first film, which he directed, and from the work of the directors that did 2 and 3. Plus, his writing seems less clusterfucky.

Milla Jovovich also seems a lot more comfortable in the role of Alice than she’s ever been. We even get to see multiple Alices in this one due to the clone cliffhanger of the previous film. Although, the clone plot thread is quickly wiped off of the slate, as they all get destroyed by a massive bomb after they take down the Tokyo HQ of the Umbrella Corporation.

This picks up the storyline about the caravan making its way to Alaska in the previous movie. Once the real Alice gets there, she discovers that shit isn’t what it seems. She reunites with Claire and the two of them end up in a prison in Los Angeles with some other survivors. Their goal is to escape and reach a ship off the coast.

There is a really cool monster in this one. It’s a giant hulking zombie thing that carries around a massive weapon that is part axe and part hammer. I thought that the battle against this new monster was the highlight of the film. The big finale on the boat was okay but the CGI effects really stuck out like a sore thumb.

Also, the well-known Resident Evil villain Wesker plays a huge part in this. I’m not sure how his personality was in the games but he’s a total cock and overly theatrical here.

I don’t really know what these films are working towards but I am pretty invested in Alice and her vendetta and want to see the two films after this one.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Also known as: Resident Evil 3, Resident Evil 3: Extinction, Resident Evil 3: Afterlife (working titles)
Release Date: September 20th, 2007 (Las Vegas premiere)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Mike Epps, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Christopher Egan, Spencer Locke, Jason O’Mara

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, Capcom Co. Ltd., Screen Gems, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Climb the Eiffel Tower with a high-powered rifle. A few years ago, that would’ve caused a stir. Well… Let the good times roll!” – Chase

This film series keeps surprising me. The reason I say this is because I didn’t have high hopes for it. The first one was decent though, then the second one was a bit better and then this one was even better than the first two. Now I don’t think that this trend will continue but being three deep into a six film series, it’s an impressive feat.

However, I think it might have something to do with the direction of the films.

You see, all of these are written by Paul W.S. Anderson. However, the first, the weakest of the first three, was directed by him. Then two and three were directed by different people before Anderson went behind the camera again for the last three. I’m not trying to knock Anderson but maybe he’s just got that George Lucas thing. He can direct but he’s better being the architect and then handing it off.

From what I hear, the back half trilogy of films isn’t as good as the first three. I’ll have to see if my Anderson theory is correct, once I watch those in the very near future.

I guess I really liked this one the best, so far, because it mixes Resident Evil and Mad Max, as our survivors traverse the desert in an effort to find something better than post-apocalyptic wastelands and deadly threats. We even get to see our heroes go to post-apocalyptic Las Vegas and fight hordes of zombies there.

Eventually, the survivors make it to the Umbrella Corporation’s secret bunker in the desert, an Area 51 like hideaway with labs and all types of crazy shit. The evil scientist from the previous movie returns and becomes a creature similar to Nemesis.

The big discovery of this movie is that Alice has been cloned dozens of times over. I’m not sure what that will mean beyond this film, if anything, because where the characters were at the start of this chapter was very different than where they were at the end of the previous movie. There was a time jump but some key characters are missing without any explanation.

Anyway, most of the action stuff was okay. The CGI still isn’t great and my Fire Stick (or Internet) had a hard time with the bird attack scene. My TV looked like a pixelated shit show. The rest of the film looked okay but I’m still not crazy about Alice’s Hong Kong fighting style, as it pulls me right out of the movie.

But for what this is, it isn’t bad and I’d watch the first three films again.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.