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Return to House on Haunted Hill
Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 10/16/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/15/2007
We can discuss other factors, but let's face facts: Sequels are produced to make money. If the first film was successful, then a second (and third, and fourth, etc.) may be as well. When it was released in 1999, House on Haunted Hill grossed more than double it's reported budget at the box-office. But, despite this success, one doesn't hear this film discussed very often. I, for one, really like this movie, so I'd like to think that the tardy sequel Return to House on Haunted Hill has more to do with the film's cult status than with money. (Yes, I know that I'm only fooling myself.)
Return to House on Haunted Hill introduces us to Ariel Wolfe (Amanda Righetti), a busy magazine editor. Ariel has been getting calls and messages from her estranged sister Sara -- the lone survivor of the first film (Ali Larter's character) -- but she ignores them. Thus, she's crushed when she learns that Sara has committed suicide. She enlists her photographer friend Paul (Tom Riley) to accompany her to Sara's apartment. There, she meets college professor Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey), as well as his assistants, Kyle (Andrew Lee Potts) and Michelle (Cerina Vincent). Hammer explains that he has dedicated his life to finding the statue of Baphomet, a demon god. Rumor has it that the statue is located in the haunted hillside asylum of Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs). Hammer believes that Sara had Vannacutt's journal which could give the location of the statue. Ariel, deep in grief, doesn't want anything to do with Hammer or his quest. Returning home, Ariel finds that Sara has mailed Vannacutt's journal to her, just as she and Paul are confronted by Desmond (Erik Palladino) and his thugs. Desmond explains that he too is looking for Baphomet. He forces Ariel and Paul to accompany him to the asylum, not knowing that Hammer and Kyle are already there. Soon, the two groups find themselves locked in the haunted hospital. And just as before, the poor souls who were tortured by the evil Vannacutt are looking for revenge on the living.
As any writer what the most difficult part of creating a sequel is and I'd be willing to be that their answer would be "the excuse". Most sequels must have an excuse for existing -- that is, the reason why the story should be continued or revived. Return to House on Haunted Hill actually has a good excuse. Given the reputation of the haunted house (in the movie) any character would have to have a good motivation to venture into it. The search for an ancient and valuable artifact is as good a one as any, and it's easily fixed with by explaining that Vannacutt collected rare art. The movie then goes one step further by theorizing that the statue exudes evil and that it's this evil which causes the violent ghosts to remain in the building. A good "excuse" which actually adds to the story in the first film is certainly a step in the right direction. Hats off to first-time screenwriter William Massa.
Unfortunately, aside from that bright spot, Return to House on Haunted Hill is flat and unremarkable. The story in the first film wasn't all that great, but it was set apart by William Malone's creative direction and the film's wonderful sets. This sequel attempts to replicate those things, but they feel like retreads. Malone also crafted some visuals which can only be described as creepy. (The one which stands out to me is the scene in which the video camera can see the ghosts when the naked eye can't.) There is seemingly no attempt to re-create that here. There is a scene involving some burned ghosts which is somewhat spooky, but it actually reminded me of something which would be found in a Silent Hill video game. The first film also featured some cleverly gross death scenes, but save for one here involving sheets (?!), the deaths are rather pedestrian.
OK, so the movie doesn't measure up to the first one. Few sequels do. What if we take it on its own merits? Then, it would fare even worse. For starters, there are no truly likeable characters in this film. Most everyone is an underwritten stereotype and Ariel comes across as a cold-hearted bitch. The pacing in the movie is quite slack. Even at 81 minutes, the movie seems to drag and I found myself itching to hit fast-forward. Once the main premise is introduced, we simply watch characters that we hardly know wander around a haunted house and die one-by-one. Jeffrey Combs reprises his role as Dr. Vannacutt, but it's difficult to tell if he's merely a spectator or if he's doing any of the killing this time.
Again, I really enjoyed House on Haunted Hill and thought that it was a great first outing for Dark Castle, the horror film production company founded by Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. But, following Th13teen Ghosts, I've felt that Dark Castle's movies have steadily declined in quality, and Return to House on Haunted Hill may be the bottom of the barrel. (Well, I think that it's worse than Gothika, I sort of blocked that one out...) I'm not opposed to a sequel to House on Haunted Hill, but that movie deserves something better than this tired re-hashing of the same story. Like any questionable property, you're probably better renting this House first.
Return to House on Haunted Hill does that crazy shaky-head thing on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer here is solid, but there are some mild problems. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, but some scenes do show a fine sheen of grain. The colors are good, and the scenes in the bowels of the asylum are never overly dark. However, I noted some difficult to ignore artifacting and video noise in some scenes, most notably dark scenes where characters were moving quickly. The DVD houses a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The dynamic range is somewhat off on this track and I found that I had to constantly increase the volume in order to hear the dialogue. Of course, this resulted in sound effects which were far too loud. That aside, the track brings nice dispersal of audio through the stereo and surround channels and there's a generous amount of bass here as well.
Return to House on Haunted Hill has come to DVD in two separate releases, one rated R and the other unrated. I only viewed the unrated version for this review, so I can't comment on the differences other than to say that the unrated version is two minutes longer.
The DVD contains a few odd extras. There are four ADDITIONAL SCENES which run about 8 minutes. Two of these are merely extended scenes and there's nothing truly new here. "Return to House on Haunted HillConfessionals" (16 minutes) offers 11 brief "interviews" with the actors in character discussing what they do in the film. Was this from a promotional website? "The Search for an Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer's Quest" (3 minutes), again, in character, Hammer talks about his search for Baphomet. Was this from a promotional website? The last extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Simply Survival" from Mushroomhead.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long