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: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Release Date: July 13th, 1995 (Argentina, Israel)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Kevin Droney
Based on: Mortal Kombat by Midway Games
Music by: George S. Clinton, various
Cast: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Christopher Lambert, Peter, Jason, Frank Welker (voice)

Threshhold Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Challenging Goro eh? You weren’t supposed to fight him now. Are you that eager to die?” – Shang Tsung

This is the epitome of poorly aged films.

But let’s be honest, Mortal Kombat was never a great film or even a very good one. People that still seem to love it, do so because of nostalgia. Either that or they just have incredibly poor taste. I’m someone that watches a lot of bad movies because I’ll review just about anything but I found this picture to be almost unwatchable in 2018.

I loved the Mortal Kombat game when it first came out but I’ll be honest, this movie didn’t do much for me, even if I threw quarters into the arcade game like a pervert at a Times Square peep show in the ’70s.

While this didn’t initially seem as bad as the Street Fighter movie that came out a year earlier, I feel that Street Fighter is just so cheesy in the right ways that I actually enjoy it more and would watch it again. As far as Mortal Kombat, I don’t want to see this film again, ever.

Granted, I’ll watch the sequel because I’ve never actually seen it and I heard that it’s so bad that you have to see it to believe it. The thing is, I would have liked this movie better if it was as terrible as what people say about the sequel. This is just mundane and a cornucopia of terrible ’90s cliches.

I have always liked Bridgette Wilson though. I wish she’d still make movies but since marrying Pete Sampras circa 2000, she hasn’t done much. Actually, her most recent credit is ten years-old now. She was one of my ’90s crushes though, so I’ve always got a soft spot for her, even though she’s mostly been in pretty mediocre movies.

As much as I like Christopher Lambert, but really only because of the original Highlander, he’s fucking awful in this. Raiden’s lines are atrocious but that’s not Lambert’s fault, this script is a hot mess. And frankly, he doesn’t do a fucking thing in this film except look more like Gandalf the White than the actual Raiden character.

I don’t understand why Johnny Cage is the one that kills Goro. Cage is a lame ass character and always has been. Although, using him to do the spot with the dick punch was pretty solid.

The worst thing about this film, however, is the ridiculous special effects. I guess Goro looked good for the time and for the limited budget this had but all the magic shit was beyond terrible. The scenes with Scorpion were laughably bad, even for 1995. Then you had the animated demon dragon things that looked like they were ripped out of a 3D PC game from 1991. Also, there is incredibly obvious green screen work. The scene where Shang Tsung sucks the soul out of a warrior and into his own eye literally made me laugh out loud like a drunken hyena.

I think that the main reason that this film didn’t work for me is that it tried to be a real live action adaptation of the game. Certain things work in a game that won’t work in a live action movie. For instance, Liu Kang’s special kick came off as forced and cringy.

In 1995, I wanted this to be good. I kind of figured out, from the trailer, that it wouldn’t be. So I went into the film with low expectations. It’s a good thing I did.

I should also point out that the soundtrack was fucking stupid but honestly, I could go on about that for 1000 words and I don’t want to pull that Band-aid off. I just remember walking by the Taekwondo gym in the mall around 1996 and seeing toddlers flailing around throwing sloppy kicks to the theme song at full blast. That’s the moment where I knew I didn’t want kids.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other mediocre but mostly crappy movies based off of fighting games: Mortal Kombat: AnnihilationStreet FighterStreet Fighter: The Legend of Chun-LiTekken and Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Billy Madison (1995)

Release Date: February 10th, 1995
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bridgette Wilson, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm Macdonald, Darren McGavin, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi, Robert Smigel

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa whoa whoa, Miss Lippy. The part of the story I don’t like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy after an hour. He didn’t put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy’s gotta think ‘You got a pet. You got a responsibility.’ If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog.” – Billy Madison

I have never been much of an Adam Sandler fan. I don’t dislike him though and I have enjoyed his more serious stuff, which I think he has a gift for. Yet, time and time again, he gives us really dumb and bad movies. Billy Madison is a film that people love but even when I was a teenager and this was a current film, I just didn’t care for it.

There just isn’t very much in this movie that I find funny. It’s not because I don’t like goofy humor but the movie doesn’t have much of a point to make and it follows a completely unlikable character that we are supposed to be rooting for.

Billy Madison, the character, is just a childlike selfish asshole. No, he doesn’t deserve anything his rich father could leave him, even if he proves that he can go back to elementary school and pass. He has to get through high school too but the majority of the movie sees him in third grade, trying to win the heart of his teacher, who can’t stand him and then suddenly, has the hots for this billionaire buffoon. I’m just going to say that she swallowed her pride and wanted the money.

This is one of those comedy movies that is nothing more than a series of gags that only really work once and even then, they mostly don’t. For some reason, twenty-plus years later, I still hear assholes in bars yell out, “O’Doyle rules!” But this film isn’t too dissimilar from what was the norm in the 1990s and hell, the norm now. Adam Sandler was at the forefront of movie comedies becoming bad and bad comedy being accepted en masse.

Billy Madison is a film that exists and for some reason, had some success that gave us a comic that has the intelligence and wit to give us special movies but ultimately chooses to make stupid ones. And in modern times, Sandler has been relegated to making Netflix movies that get incredibly bad reviews but truthfully, Billy Madison isn’t any better than the schlock he’s hated for now.

Rating: 4.5/10