Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)

The sequel to a remake no-one ever wanted to see, Return to House on Haunted Hill delivers exactly what you'd expect: unrelenting shit. Almost everything that's wrong with modern horror movies is crammed into this film; the only box on the List of Crap it didn't tick was the "torture porn" one, thankfully. But everything else - incoherent script, bad dialogue, quick cutting, girls with long wet hair, no characterisation whatsoever, and way, way, way too much CGI - that's all there. In abundance.

The only survivor from 1999's House on Haunted Hill was Sara Wolfe, played by Ali Larter. Larter's career prospects have improved somewhat since then, so for the sequel, her character is bumped off and her sister - a successful fashion magazine editor, not that that has anything to do with anything in the movie - is drafted in, instead. See, it turns out that the fact that the house used to be an insane asylum where the inmates were tortured before they were all killed wasn't enough to create the ghosts: there's something else in there, too. That something else is an evil McGuffin - a Baphomet idol, worshipped by, er, someone or other. (Clearly, the writers of the film didn't have access to Wikipedia when they wrote that bit, or they might have picked another deity.)

The evil McGuffin is worth millions of dollars in certain circles, so an obsessive university professor is trying to find it, as are a group of thugs, and everyone's backstabbing everyone else in what I can only assume is a failed attempt to emulate the convoluted interpersonal politics of the first movie. Basically, there's a lot of really complicated manoeuvring which only serves to get a group of people into the titular house so that they can get killed off; although all sorts of relationships between characters are set up, the characters are so badly drawn that it kind of doesn't matter and becomes just meaningless noise. (Unfortunately, the line about "they say people who believe in ghosts should be on Prozac" stuck with me, because, um, I kind of get what the writer was going for, implying that people who believe in ghosts are mentally ill, but Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It's an anti-depressant. Is seeing ghosts a symptom of depression, now?)

There's another wrinkle to the problem of poorly defined characters, too, in that several of the actors look the same. The two female characters are dressed alike to begin with, and then fail to have any further distinguishing characteristics as the film progresses; the thugs all look the same, even though one of them is supposedly a minor celebrity within the world of the movie; and there are two lank-haired skinny boys running about. When each lanky boy gets paired with a bald thug and the group splits up, it's quite hard to keep track of which one is which, and when the killing starts, there's a moment where it actually looks as though one group is reacting to their own death in another part of the house. Giving the characters some personality might have helped clarify this. Alternatively, they could have cast some less generic-looking actors.

I'd noticed that the box art looked weirdly minimalist when I first looked at it, until I realised there weren't any actors' names mentioned. The only person worth mentioning, really, is Jeffrey Combs, but it isn't worth sitting through this to see him. He's playing Dr Vannacutt, again, just like in the first movie, but really it could have been anyone underneath the moustache and lab coat. The doctor just blips onscreen, makes a bizarre facial expression that makes him look like a cross between Bruce Campbell and Ben Stiller, and then blips off again. He has no dialogue, and no presence whatsoever. He's not even slightly baleful.

As far as the body count goes... well, it's pretty high, I think. The aforementioned problem with not being able to tell people apart makes counting problematic, but there's a lot of splatter. It's just that it's all so poorly executed. Anatomy just doesn't work like that. It's all so far-fetched (particularly when people die of things that just wouldn't kill you) that it wouldn't be scary even if you cared about the characters, but you don't. The set ups aren't clever enough; they basically consist of characters wandering off by themselves into darkened rooms, a few ghost blips, and then a daft, splattery death. Half the time, it's a daft, splattery CGI death, possibly done on a ZX Spectrum. Combined with the complete ignorance of anatomy on display, the cheap CGI just makes the death scenes even more pathetic.

And I know I've mentioned them a few times already, but the ghosts in this movie are awful. Dreadful, really. The first movie was stylish; this one looks like the director saw The Grudge and Silent Hill a few too many times. Every new creature that pops up looks like you've seen it before, except that this is the Hyper Value Halloween costume version of it. There is no originality here, and no intelligence. Apparently, the high definition versions of the film (I don't want to think about how bad the effects will look in high definition, considering how laughable they were in standard definition) will include the kind of choose-your-own-adventure options that the Final Destination 3 DVD offered. Usually, that's the kind of feature I'd lap right up, but even with four alternate endings, I can't think of any way this film could be improved, bar scrapping the whole lot and starting again. It's a lost cause.

Honestly, I'd recommend you watch Flesh for the Beast instead of this.

IMDB link

8 comments:

Oli said...

Now, come on Sarah? Where's your horror geek knowledge? You know Taye Diggs survived the first movie too.

Sarah Dobbs said...

Ooooooh. You're right. I am suitably chastened. Though that actually makes the sequel worse - where's he now?

Oli said...

He was a detective for a while, and is now a doctor at a private practice.

...

What d'you mean television isn't the same as real life?

Jon Peacey said...

Having just checked the plot summary on this film, I think they may have been doing their research via the Hammer back catalogue: To The Devil A Daughter features Baphomet worshippers who indulge in homosexual rites which tallies with something on the Wikipedia entry for RTHOHH- so it's what they say and not me being perjorative.

Personally, I enjoyed the 1999 film more than the original.

fiatluxx said...

This was a great review. The thing I was curious about is, I did see the first movie and I remember that TWO people survived. How about a little consistency? All that would be required of the writers and director is that they actually watched the first movie, or read the script, hell, read the IMDB summary even.

Sarah Dobbs said...

Thing is, they didn't need to mention the survivors at all, really. The setup is very, very contrived when it really didn't need to be.

EdBaker said...

This was a very dissapointing sequel after waiting 8 years- number 1 was so good they should have just left it alone. I mean, no mention of Eddie? What is that about? Hopefully he will be in number three, which yes- a petition has been started for.

Sarah Dobbs said...

House on Haunted Hill... 3?

Oh dear.