Return to House on Haunted Hill
R1 - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (23rd December 2007).
The Film

Let's recap first; originally there was William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill (1959)" with actor Vincent Price. Then William Malone's remake "House on Haunted Hill (1999)" with Geoffrey Rush. Now welcome sequel of the remake - "Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)", from director Víctor García. This time there's no millionaire, but we have actress Amanda Righetti instead. Stripping down the known actors and the budget, "Return to House on Haunted Hill" arrived straight to DVD/HD. This is not a very good sign to begin with. The film is produced by "Dark Castle Entertainment".

For those who don't know the back story, some clues can be found from the opening credits sequence; Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs - e.g. "Re-Animator (1985)" and "From Beyond (1986)") was the head of the "Hill House" insane asylum in the 1920's. Instead of helping the patients, he performed grizzly experiment with them in the dungeons. Many died in the process. On one day in 1931, the patient uprising ended the life of Dr. Vannacutt and the fire destroyed the hospital. What was left behind was the myth that the house is haunted and the tormented souls of the patients are still wandering. In "House on Haunted Hill (1999)", several deaths occurred in the house and although the official blame was put on the millionaire Stephen H. Price, there were rumors about ghosts and the curse of the house. The story now continues.

Ariel Wolfe (Righetti) is the editor of a trendy magazine. Her daily worries are mainly whether Pearl Jam will cancel the scheduled interview or whether the photo models are right for the shoot. One day, she gets a sad call; her troubled sister Sara has committed suicide. Sara was one of the few survivors from the 1999 incident at the "Hill House" and in recent years the relationship of the siblings has been rather cold. Since Sara has been trying to reach Ariel before her death, Ariel and the magazine photographer Paul (Tom Riley) go to Sara's apartment to find some clues when Dr. Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey) arrives on the scene. He also had connection with the late Sara. Dr. Hammer has been hunting for the certain 'Baphomet idol' statue for years now and it seems that it's located somewhere inside the old "Hill House" in Los Angeles.

When arriving home that night, Ariel receives a package on her doorstep. It's the old Dr. Vannacutt's journal - sent by Sara, valuable for anyone trying to locate the 'Baphomet idol'. This puts Ariel in a compromising position because along with Dr. Hammer; there are others looking for that journal, a group of mean looking characters storm into the Ariel's house, led by Desmond (Erik Palladino - e.g. "ER" TV-series in 1999-2001), seeking for the journal and taking both Ariel and Paul with them. The group head to the dark and infamous "Hill House". Dr. Hammer is already there, along with his student "girlfriend" Michelle (Cerina Vincent - e.g. "Cabin Fever (2002)") and assistant Kyle (Andrew Lee Potts - e.g. "The Bunker (2001)"). And It's time to find out whether the myths of the house are true...

Most of the recent "haunted house"-films have been more or less disappointing. "The Haunting (1999)" was a big budget CGI-mess and although "Thir13en Ghosts (2001)" was fun, a lot of potential was missed. There was also Disney's "The Haunted Mansion (2003)" with, er...Eddie Murphy. The more traditional ghost stories like "The Sixth Sense (1999)" or "The Others (2001)" have faired better and the reason for this is actually quite simple; the horror is subtle - yet effective, story is intriguing, tension is built in time and plenty is left to the imagination. The "twist" is also revealed near the end. "Return to House on Haunted Hill" basically bypasses all this and it relies on "blood & guts". Real tension? Forget it. Spooks? Nah. Interesting characters? Not a chance. The film sadly lives up to its "straight-to-DVD"-moniker, since it is a mediocre ride from the start to finish. Everything is predictable and even the gore tends to be a bit boring. Granted, there are a few bloody scenes and minor nastiness, but the "kills" are not very interesting, nor even original (at least not after films like "Saw" and such). The occasional CGI-effects don't really help either, making some scenes appear "artificial" and cheap rather than horrifying. Director Víctor García has forgotten the cardinal rule of the "low budget horror"; At least make the horror-scenes memorable and don't use cheap CGI. And Tension is replaced with blatant nudity, so you have lesbian vampires or just a few "boobies" to stir up the story.

All characters are stereotypical (especially the "bad guys") and most are clearly there just to get killed. Actors do what they can and are not fully to blame, but the screenplay doesn't give much room for originality. E.g. Erik Palladino plays a decent villain, but how many times have you seen a character just like that in different films? Too many times. Dr. Hammer is introduced as being a teacher "getting it on" with his students after his lectures, but then we should believe that Michelle is his real "girlfriend" and that he "loves her". It just doesn't happen. The character of Michelle is perhaps the most useless character in the movie anyway. Cult-favorite Jeffrey Combs does not appear too much on the screen, but at least fans can cheer when the "original Herbert West" appears in the film. West can give a few good lines here and there (mostly Andrew Lee Potts) but they can't save the film from sinking into the "forgettable low budget horror"-pile. And if you're after some added nudity, you might find something after the end credits.

Video

2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The movie boasts a very strong and clear picture. The colours never pop out of the screen, but the movie purposely has a dull palette, which is reproduced accurately. The contrast is very nice, though in the darker scenes, some small noise can be seen. It's never a problem though, as the movie never really stays still anywhere. In all the movement, however, there's no pixelation, aliasing or other such problem. The black level is also very strong, making this a very strong transfer.

Audio

The movie comes with a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dub, which I ignored. I heard the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and I was happy. The movie is literally dripping with atmosphere and you can hear every drop, from every speaker. There's plenty of ambiance throughout the movie to make you believe that this house is creepy and that you're in this house. The dialogue is clear and centered and is always heard. The music shows nice separation and helps very nicely with the mood. The presentation here is very nice.

English HoH, French and Spanish subtitles are provided.

Extras

-"Behind The Story" confessionals -featurettes are very short bits, where the characters are telling why they're in the house and reveal something about themselves (or the other characters). Actors are these "in character". While most of these doesn't feel very interesting, Warren & Kyle segments were mildly funny (at least when Warren is planning to "pop a cap in the ass with any of these muthaf**king ghost-asses"). Here are the list featurettes, which run 16:02 minutes with "Play all":
*Ariel (0:41 sec)
*Ariel - Sister Sara (0:58 sec)
*Ariel - Paul 2 (1:00 min)
*Desmond (0:34 sec)
*Desmond - Baphomet idol (0:42 sec)
*Paul (0:49 sec)
*Michelle (0:46 sec)
*Norris (0:42 sec)
*Norris - On the bus (0:41 sec)
*Harue (0:49 sec)
*Harue - Team player (0:49 sec)
*Samuel (0:42 sec)
*Samuel - In the maze (0:49 sec)
*Warren & Kyle (1:09 min)
* Warren & Kyle - $5 million (0:44 sec)
* Warren & Kyle - Michelle (0:58 sec)
* Warren & Kyle - "Let me go!" (1:01 min)
* Warren & Kyle - "Shoot me!" (1:08 min)
*Richard (0:49 sec)

-"The Search For An Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer's Quest" -featurette (2:51 min) is a longer "character confessional", where Dr. Hammer tells the background of the statue and about his lifelong quest searching it.

-4 additional scenes runs 7:53 minutes with "Play all":
*"Split Up - Extend" (2:34 min)
Desmond suggests that the team should split up to look for the 'Baphomet idol' and eventually chooses Ariel as his partner.
*"Interior Designer" (00:35 sec)
Kyle and Norris enter the basement.
*"Couch - Extended" (2:07 min)
Kyle and Norris - and the haunted couch.
*"Attic" (2:35 min)
Ariel and Paul find the path to the attic blocked.

-"Mushroomhead: Simple Survival" -music video runs 3:17 minutes and includes segments from the film.

Overall

It's hard to fully recommend "Return to House on Haunted Hill" as a film, since you have to be a quite open-minded horror-buff to see the "good sides" of this film. At least it has a few scenes of gore and blood.


Film and Extras review by Jari Kovalainen, technical specs reviewed by Pat Pilon.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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