Return to House On Haunted Hill


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"I wasn't listening I was just looking at your breasts "

March 15th, 2009

Back in 2007 I was in two minds about buying a Blu-ray player, I had a HD ready TV but there was very little material I desired to see in greater detail. That was until Dark Castle produced a nifty little straight to video title that had me clamouring to own a PlayStation 3 (the pride and joy of my entertainment system). Return to House on Haunted Hill was an exclusive that was developed as an interactive experience that only the increased capacity of Blu-ray could cope with (Sure you could buy the standard DVD release but it lacked the interactivity) and boy did they nail it.

Only a year earlier Final Destination 3's DVD release had a go at giving viewers the chance to 'choose your own fate'. This wasn't a bad idea but it had clearly been tacked on restricting actual freedom of choices. Return to House on Haunted Hill (from here on referred to as Return) perfected the technique giving me hours of fun and yet leaving me somewhat disappointed. As this wasn't attached to a better movie the technique never picked up, I would rather have these interactive titles as opposed to the 3-D movies that are now making the rounds.

I love Dark Castle's horror remakes, when most films are remade I always have a twinge of doubt but when handled by Dark Castle I look forward to them. Their choices are always good and they pick films that are more than 10 years old. Out of all their releases my favourite has to be their first, House On Haunted Hill. So when a sequel was announced I looked forward to it. Dark Castle decided to make the move into creating original material rather than just ploughing out remakes (I'm sure they save money by not having to acquire rights) which just happened to include making follow ups to their already released cannon. As I mentioned before Return didn't do that well and I'm sure that's why we have yet to see any other sequels.

Before we delve into the 'play it your way' adventure let's take a look at all the elements that cover the standard release. Set a few years after the first we follow Ariel Wolfe (Amanda Righetti) the sister of Ali Larter's character in the original. After her sister's suicide Ariel is drawn to Hill House to find answers about the death (actually she's dragged their unwillingly). I don't really see why they invented a sister for this film, normally I would accept this as the original actors refused to return and the producers wanted to have a link to the first movie but not this time. The suicide (or was it?) occurred off screen but they actually recast Larter's role with a new actress playing her ghost. Why didn't they just recast her and make her the main character? I'll never understand Hollywood.

Anyway, expanding on the mythology of the first it's revealed that there is an idol in the basement of the house that is resurrecting the ghosts (isn't that the same plot point in Night At The Museum?). Two groups enter the house to find the idol, the first are a professor and his students who want to find it to put it in a museum (maybe it is a spin-off of the Ben Stiller flick) the others are a renegade unit who want to steal the idol and sell it on the black market for financial gain (how evil) and are willing to kill for it. Once locked in the house there's a struggle for power, lots of double crosses and of course the odd ghost as well.

Its not the best story ever committed to film but it's a lot more competent than any straight to DVD releases at the time in – fact it's a lot better than most of the DVD releases today (my favourite STV release has to be Wrong Turn 2). Not bad at all.

The characters here have to be the weakest part of the film as they are all cliché ridden, but you tend to find that in sequels and direct to DVD. Even so all the actors here give fantastic performances that bring more life to their cardboard backgrounds and I actually liked spending time with them. Jeffery Combs is the only cast member to return to Return (I was dying to write that) and while it's great to see him it's nothing more than a cameo and he looks rather old to be playing the same ghost. Cerina Vincent appears here, you may remember her from Cabin Fever. I'm a fan of her appearances as she's gorgeous but this time keeps her clothes on (she was also once a power ranger but more on that in another review). On top of these two we get two British celebrities (if you can call them that) in a former UFC champion and the twat off of Primeval, trying his best American accent no less.

For a DVD release this film looks amazing, you'd be hard pressed to tell this apart from the original. Production values are high and the sets resemble the original Hill House, only more dilapidated but that's actually a good thing. The only drawback would be the overuse of CGI but it's fine considering how much cheaper it is now to produce blood with these effects (the money saved went into other areas which is great).

Now let's get into the good stuff, the interactive movie. Every choice you make actively changes the movie and the scenes that follow your choice. The cover states that there are 96 different ways to watch the film and while technically that may be true you're never going to sit through the film 96 times. Depending on how things play out you can change the ending and the epilogue that plays after the credits. I can't remember exactly but there are about 5 different endings and about 9 different choices as the film plays. 9 choices may not seem like a lot but the responses you give may affect a later choice in a different way.

Now when I first started watching this film I never expected my choices to make that much of an impact but with my first two choices my jaw dropped. About 40 minutes into the film there is a scuffle in the basement in which the main character has the choice to save her friend or go for a fallen gun. I, being the kind hearted person I am, decide to go for the gun which resulted in the death of every single character and the credits began to role. This was great, I never expected that but then the terror set in, did that mean I would have to go through the first 40minutes again? Fortunately the makers already thought of that giving the option to return to an earlier choice, great.

I do want to point out another choice that has stuck in my mind for reasons I'm not sure why (yeah right). One of the characters early in the film gets the choice to make out with two sexy topless ghosts (by the way she's female too). Funnily enough unlike most horror films you are not judged for indulging in some carnal pleasures in fact it's the exact opposite. If you decide to leave your character ends up dead whereas staying actually saves the character and changes the final epilogue.

While a lot of this is fun there are a few drawbacks to the experience. A few of the choices are rather bland which has me questioning why they were thrown in. The first choice you make is to return a phone call whether you do this or not changes nothing and eliminates about 20 of the 96 possible play troughs. Also there are moments in the film that scream out to have choices added to them and as you anxiously wait for the choice to pop up it never comes. At one point our hero escapes the house but has to decide if she wants to return to save her friends. Why was this not an option? Perhaps it once was but the outcome was less than impressive? We'll never know.

On top of all this the DVD is jam packed with extras including music videos, deleted and extended scenes and a directors commentary, talk about value for money. The disc contains a director's version to show the choices which will serve as cannon if a sequel is ever made.

I really hope that one day Dark Castle decide to return to this franchise as it is set up to continue in an interesting way (new location, new ghosts). I enjoyed this release despite its flaws and it's a shame we don't have more releases like this. If you can find a cheap copy please pick it up but remember only the blu-ray has the 'create your own story' option.

Trivia:
Amanda Righetti, the female lead is also the lead in the Friday the 13th remake.
Jeffery Combs has no lines in this or the original ("original"… it's a remake).
In the USA there is a rated and unrated cut – the version we get is the unrated kind.

Director: Víctor García
Screenplay: William Massa
Release: 2007
Rating: 18
Starring: Amanda Righetti, Erik Palladino, Cerina Vincent, Tom Riley, Jeffrey Combs


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