Return To House on Haunted Hill (2007)


The EPA must really love the horror freaks, because nobody recycles old trash like we do. We've passed the point at which we turn a so-so haunted house chiller into a new-fangled (and gorier!) rendition, so now it comes time for the sequels. Arriving this week from the brand-new "Warner Premieres" division is Return to House on Haunted Hill, an "unrated" video sequel to a 1999 remake of a 19xx Vincent Price ghost story. Why? Because anyone can slap together a haunted house movie ... but you only "move the units" if you have a recognizable title. Hence the creation of Return to House on Haunted Hill: an afterthought of a sequel if ever there was one.

And yet ... it's still more entertaining than its immediate predecessor!

But the sad truth is that after Wrong Turn 2 marked a definite step forward into "direct-to-video horror market," this week's R2HoHH is ... ok, not exactly a step back, but surely nothing to get all that excited about. Barring the technological toys (more on those later), this is little more than (yet) another flick in which a bunch of generic bubble-heads wander through a decrepit edifice, only to get sliced and diced (one at a time) by the unkind spirits who reside within. So if you're looking for unique plotting and craft dialog ... look elsewhere.

We begin with a tenuous connection to the remake: Seems that the sister of the girl who survived the first flick has come into contact with a very valuable journal, one that (sorta) names the location of the legendary "Baphomet idol." (Three guesses as to where the idol is buried, and here's a hint: It's mentioned in the title.) So with a slightly colorful collection of eventual victims along for the ride, our heroine must do what she can to survive her trip to Haunted Hill. And if the main story is too generic, you can focus instead on the skimpy-but-interesting little back-stories that each of the undead spirits has to offer.

But if you take out the opening titles and the end credits, you're looking at a movie that runs maybe 71 minutes in length. By the 17-minute mark we're already wandering around the mansion, and then it's a quick and relatively painless trip to the finale. Director Victor Garcia seems to have more talent than is really needed for a project like this, and his semi-creative visual flourishes are consistently undone by a screenplay that's as basic as it is bland. And while the gorehounds and fright-freaks will probably enjoy three or four of the suitably splattery dispatches, there's just too much "down time" and not enough energy to keep the flick afloat.

Cast-wise, very few of the players make much of an impression, although Steven Pacey (as a pompous professor) and Amanda Righetti (as hero girl) do what they can. Fans of ever-sneering B-movie villains will probably get a kick out of Erik Palladino's venomous performance as a gun-toting thug. The special effects are pretty solid, the "look" of the piece is unexpectedly strong, and there's just enough Jeffrey Combs to keep the old-school fans intrigued. Still, there's just not much of a MOVIE here, be it a good one or a bad one. At best, Return is a completely forgettable time-waster ... but it definitely could have been a whole lot worse.

OK, here's where things get a little more complicated. The version I'm reviewing is the Unrated Standard DVD edition, but if you happen to own one of those high-tech "next-gen" DVD players (that'd be Hi-Def or Blu-Ray, I believe), then you have all sorts of extra options where Return to House on Haunted Hill is concerned. As far as extra features on the "standard" release are concerned, don't even bother. All you're getting are 16 minutes of pointless "character confessionals," a few extra minutes with the idol-hungry professor, a small handful of deleted (dialog) scenes, and a music video. (Also, the movie is presented in a widescreen anamorphic format with Dolby Digital 5.1 (English or Spanish) sound.)

But if you buy the fancy version, you'll get all sorts of "branching" options during the movie. I'm assuming it's stuff like "Click left if you want Jenny to open the crypt -or- click right if you want Jenny to take off her tank top and run screaming through the house." Producer Joel Silver promised that the multi-option capability will give hours of replay time, but here's my question: What good is clicking through dozens of different sub-plot options ... if the movie itself isn't all that good? Dumb, gory, and watchable, sure -- but worth sitting through multiple times just to see a few new "empty hallway" sequences? No thanks.