Y'all should know by now that I'm not ashamed to admit I enjoy House on Haunted Hill. I recognize that it's not necessarily good, but that matters not- it's fairly entertaining and I have a fondness for it. It has a special place in my heart...but not a special place in my special place. It's not that good.
Anyawkward, when I sat in on a panel for the sequel Return to House on Haunted Hill at San Diego Comic-Con 400 years ago, I was intrigued by the promised Choose Your Own Adventure-ish-ness of the hi-def straight-to-DVD release. Intrigued in a "Oh. That's...something." kind of way. I knew I wouldn't partake in the hijinks (I'm SDTV, y'all- I know, right?), and I knew that the sequel, largely unnecessary, would probably stink. I can't help it, sometimes I'm just a big old cynical pessimist.
Sure enough, when the DVD hit, the reactions were much the same as they were with The Unborn: everyone warned me away, telling me it was awful. While this confirmed my suspicions, I couldn't help but feel those old familiar feelings. No one really likes the original much, but I do- maybe that would be the case with the sequel. I would understand it. I would see something special in it that no one else could see. I would have...enjoyment, and it would be enjoyably enjoyable. Yes, all this optimism amidst all my pessimism.
Man, I really gotta quit with this "savior" mentality.
Ariel (Amanda Righetti) is a bigwig magazine editor. She's a no fuss, no muss, no sleep, no man kind of gal- it's hard being a career woman, y'all. Her sister Sara is Ali Larter- well, you know what I mean. The survivor from House on Haunted Hill; yes, somehow she got down off that roof. The siblings don't speak, however, because Sara is convinced that house on haunted hill was more haunted house on regular hill and Ariel won't abide that ghost talk shit. When Sara commits suicide, though...
...there begins a plot thread about some valuable artifact and whatever whatever it's in the asylum-turned-house where all that death occurred. I can't get be bothered to wade deeply into the Tomb Raiderness of it all, frankly, because it's too silly and I'm too lazy. Suffice it to say, a bunch of people needed to get back into the house and this artifact is the reason they go.
Once there...sigh, they get picked off by the resident ghosts. Yes! The nameless characters- let's call them The Nerd, The Hothead, The Lesbo, and The Black One- encounter a bunch of CGI specters and the blood flies.
I guess this is pretty much what happens in the first one, right? So why does this sequel fail while the original (almost) succeeds? Maybe because in the near decade since that original trip to haunted hill, CGI ghosts are so overdone they're, like, Cajun blackened. The whole ghosts have shaky heads thing? Yeah, that's so old I forgot to die (awesome 5th grade insult). Maybe it's because the characters in the first, while not fleshed out, were more fun- hell, the whole movie was more fun. It was a bit camp, even, and the acting was certainly better.
There's also the style of the thing. Director Victor Garcia employs every shitty music video trick here: shaky cam, jump cuts, strobe lights...I'd be surprised if any shot lasts longer than three seconds. ADD filmmaking really needs to bite it.
It's too bad. Maybe I'm being lenient, but the plot isn't completely terrible. I don't mean the Raiders of the Lost Ark shit- I mean the evil doctor/corrupt insane asylum/patient rebellion plot. Cheese and crackers, people, this movie features Jeffrey fucking Combs as an evil doctor and he doesn't even speak! Wait, yes he does- he says "No! No! No!"in the last moments of the film. What a waste. Waste. Waaaaaaste.
Heck, that underlying plot might be dumb as well, but at least it has potential to be watchably so. Look, for all my "I heart 1981" blatherings, I'm well aware that there was some dumb shit cranked out back then, too, but most of it was...different. Fun. That may actually be true, or that may simply be a result of my age at the time- and I won't deny that nostalgia is powerful. Still, I think a film like Return to House on Haunted Hill should be fun first and foremost- that's why the original (almost) succeeds- but the return is not fun at all. And honestly, I doubt the hi-def Choose Your Own Adventure schtick would make it any more so. For fuck's sake, this movie has blood and naked lesbian ghosts and it still isn't any fun. That's like having dough and sauce and cheese and not being able to craft a damn pizza.
A word of warning, though, for the general public: Ariel sets the evil of the house free by throwing the artifact into the sewer. That means the evil is loosed! Loosed so very easily! The point is, Los Angelites, be sure to use a Brita filter before you drink your tap water.
Return to House on Haunted Hill counts towards Category 3 in Operation: 101010!