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: Body Double (1984)

Release Date: October 15th, 1984 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Robert J. Avrech
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Al Israel, Barbara Crampton, Slavitza Jovan

Delphi II Productions, Columbia Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.” – Holly Body

Having now seen all three movies in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir trilogy from the early ’80s, I’d have to say that this one is the weakest but it is also the most fun. But I’ll explain what I mean.

The first two movies in De Palma’s noir thrillers came out back-to-back. This third film, however, came out after he did Scarface. I feel like I need to mention that, as this feels like a weird amalgamation of the style from the other noir pictures, as well as the style from Scarface, which was poppier, livelier and had an early ’80s neo-noir aesthetic in its own way due to its use of lighting, shadows and neon accents. Scarface almost had vibrant giallo tones and they carried over into this movie.

I’ve talked about De Palma also tapping into Alfred Hitchcock for these films and honestly, this might be his most Hitchcockian of the lot, as it channels parts of Rear Window and Vertigo.

As simply as I can state it, Body Double channels Rear Window in how it explores voyeurism and it channels Vertigo in how it features two women appearing as one with some noir styled trickery.

This might also be tapping into Dial M for Murder due to the use of the phone as a narrative prop when the girl that the protagonist is obsessing over has a killer in her midst.

There’s really a lot going on in this movie and it’s a solid homage to all of these great things but it is very much its own film that taps multiple creative wells but still comes up with something refreshing and unique.

I thought that the plot was well conceived and executed and even if you can start to put it together fairly early, there is still a bit more to the big reveal than you’ll anticipate.

While this might be the worst acted of De Pama’s neo-noir flicks, no one in it is bad and the performances kind of add to the bonkers proceedings. I feel as if the performances are a bit hammy because the tone of the film called for that. And that’s not to say that this isn’t a serious movie, it is, but it seems pretty self aware that it is tapping into schlock territory while still being real cinematic art.

The film also uses some gore and it works well here. De Palma has used gore before; look at Sisters for instance, as that had some brutal moments in it. But the use of gore really adds something to the dreamlike quality of the film. While this takes place in the real world, there is something fantastical and magical about the look and feel of the picture.

On a side note: I love the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in this film. It briefly turns the film into a bizarre ’80s style MTV music video with a bit of sexploitation thrown in. It may sound odd for someone who hasn’t seen this film but it’s the moment where I realized that I love this picture. And it’s that moment where the film really commits to the bit and shows you that despite the harsh moments and violence, this is a film that’s really having fun with itself. It’s like cinematic masturbation of the highest regard.

And thinking about that moment, it really helps to set this film apart from the other two that are so closely associated with it. Where the first film was really dark and gritty, the second one started to let some light into it and then this third picture, really embraces the bright lights and becomes somewhat chipper, creating a lot of contrast from the beginning to the end of De Palma’s neo-noir work. In fact, the visual tones also remind me a bit of De Palma’s very lively Phantom of the Paradise.

Due to the length of this review, it seems that I have more to say about this picture than the other two, which I still feel edge it out. But I think that’s due to the fact that this gave me the most to chew on and it feels like the most Brian De Palma film of all-time, as he calls back to a lot of his previous work and his main influences.

Despite this being my least favorite of the three noir thrillers, it’s still a damn fine film and honestly, it’s probably the one I will revisit the most.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other neo-noir thrillers from this era: Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Film Review: The ‘Ghostbusters’ Film Series (1984-1989)

For those who haven’t seen these films, you have wasted your time on this planet. In fact, these are films that should be beamed into the brains of unborn babies. This would eliminate any chance of horrible humorless babies coming into the world. America, or the world for that matter, doesn’t need anymore humorless jerks being born to boring parents.

These films are great. The first is much greater but the second is still damn good. So let me get right into these movies.

Ghostbusters (1984):

Release Date: June 7th, 1984 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton, Slavitza Jovan

Black Rhino, Delphi Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

ghostbustersReview:

I was five years-old when this came out. I didn’t see it in the theater because my mum thought it was “too intense”. She was wrong, as I saw it when I was six and fell in love with the film and its cast.

My young mind was exposed to Bill Murray, as well as Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. From that point forward, my lifelong allegiance to those three was solidified. Hell, I also had an allegiance to Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts after this film.

Few films, even great comedy ensembles, are able to assemble a cast this good. Originally, John Belushi was set to play Murray’s part but his death changed things. Eddie Murphy was also cast in the role that went to Ernie Hudson while John Candy had Rick Moranis’ part. All things considered, I’m glad the film turned out the way it did. I think Murray is the gel that makes this unit work.

Great cast aside, the film was fun and original. The story sees three failed scientists and a hired fourth guy go against the paranormal forces that are ravaging 1980s New York City. It is a pretty nonstop film that moves fast from the first scene through the climactic final battle with Gozer the Gozerian.

Peter Venkman is Bill Murray’s greatest character, even though many can just say that he’s playing Bill Murray with a bit more intelligence in the realm of science. It is also Ramis’ and Aykroyd’s most iconic roles. The film is a perfect storm of talent, comedy, action and storytelling.

The special effects, for their time, are top notch and well executed. The diversity in the types of ghosts and supernatural characters is pretty astounding. While this film could’ve played as well with typical one-dimensional ghost characters, the filmmakers got insanely creative and took a lot of liberties.

Ghostbusters isn’t a perfect film.. no, actually, it is.

Ghostbusters II (1989):

Release Date: June 16th, 1989
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Peter MacNicol, Kurt Fuller, Mary Ellen Trainor

Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

ghostbusters_iiReview:

It took five years to get a sequel. Many think that it is inferior to the original, and they aren’t wrong. But it is still great and although it doesn’t capture lightning in a bottle a second time, it does retain some of the magic of the first film.

At its worst, it is a continuation of these characters’ lives. With a talented cast, such as this, it is hard to make a bad film, even if a sequel wasn’t necessary.

The entire cast that I mentioned in my write-up about the first movie, returns in this installment. We also get the addition of Peter MacNicol, who was brilliant and really steals the scenes that he is in – a tremendous feat when sharing the screen with Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Hudson, Weaver and Moranis. I’m surprised that MacNicol hasn’t done more comedy like this.

This chapter sees the Ghostbusters go against Vigo the Carpathian, who is an homage to Rasputin and Vlad Tepes (the real Dracula). He is in search of a baby to be his vessel for reincarnation. It just so happens that Weaver’s character is now the mother of a baby.

While not as outright funny as the first film, the humor is still top notch, the gags are funny and it is just nice to see these guys together again for another two hour romp.

Ghostbusters II isn’t an example of a bad sequel, it is a good sequel. While it wasn’t needed, we got it. It could have been much worse but I am happy with the finished product, regardless.