by Mel Valentin
An unnecessary sequel to a superfluous remake, "Return to House on Haunted Hill," is everything (and much, much less) that horror fans have come to expect from direct-to-DVD producers: it's cheaply, lazily made, with as much attention to craft or storytelling that a first-time director, Victor García, and a first-time screenwriter, William Massa, with little incentive to do anything above the bare minimum, i.e., providing video watchers with one violent, gory set piece after another, each one as unimaginative as the last one. With a non-star cast saddled with clichéd dialogue giving lackluster performances, it's a wonder why all the DVD copies of "Return to House on Haunted Hill" weren't scrapped or otherwise disposed of. Is "Return to House on Haunted Hill" really that bad? Sadly, it is.Return to House on Haunted Hill picks up roughly seven years after the end of House on Haunted Hill. Ariel Wolfe (Amanda Righetti), an editor for a fashion magazine, has little time for her older sister, Sara, one of the survivors from the first film. Ariel refuses to believe any of Sara’s wild stories about the House on Haunted Hill, a former insane asylum. That is until she gets the news that Sara is dead, an apparent suicide. Bringing her erstwhile boyfriend and fashion photographer Paul (Tom Riley) along with her to Sara’s apartment, she discovers a journal apparently written by Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), the asylum’s last chief of staff. Vannacutt died years earlier when the asylum’s inmates turned on him and his staff, murdering them all after Vannacutt’s failsafe device closed off the asylum from the outside world.
"An unnecessary sequel to a superfluous remake."
Ariel soon learns, however, that interested parties want Vannacutt’s journal. From the relatively benign Richard (Steven Pacey), an anthropology professor at a local university, Ariel learns that Vannacutt hid the Baphomet idol, a cursed statue worth millions, on the asylum’s grounds. One of Richard’s former students, Desmond (Erik Palladino), isn’t so benign. With the help of several henchmen, Norris (Gil Kolirin), Samuel (Andrew Pleavin), and Warren (Chucky Venice), and one henchwoman, Harue (Clyta Rainford), Desmond kidnaps Ariel and Paul by gunpoint and heads for asylum. Richard also heads for the asylum along with two of his graduate assistants, Michelle (Cerina Vincent), with whom Richard is having an affair, and the geeky Kyle (Andrew Lee Potts).
Not surprisingly for a direct-to-DVD sequel in the horror genre, the reason to see Return to House on Haunted Hill, if any in fact there is a reason, is to sit through what passes for a storyline until we get to the kill-offs, i.e., minor and maybe one or two major characters dying in inventively grisly, expressly gory ways. With a cast of almost a dozen characters, none of them particularly well defined, García and Massa had a lot of room, if meager resources, to bring their imaginations to bear on the singularly most important question of any R-rated horror flick: how to kill off your characters in ways jaded audiences haven’t seen or experienced beforehand. In that, Return to House on Haunted Hill gets a passing mark, a “C-“ if we’re feeling charitable and a “D” if we’re not.
Which brings us back to the hackneyed, clichéd, lazily written storyline that depends, of course, on characters acting stupidly not just once, not just twice, but over and over again until everyone except one or two or three characters and the villain are left to fight over the Baphomet idol? Hackneyed, clichéd, and lazily written also applies to the functionally literate (or is it functionally illiterate) and the lackluster, uninspired performances by an under-talented cast desperately hoping to get their SAG card and move on to better projects. No such luck. It’ll be surprising, no shocking, if we see anyone from this cast again except in other sub-par direct-to-DVD genre flicks.Likewise with first-time director Victor García, and a first-time screenwriter, William Massa. García shows the occasional spark of talent behind the camera, but he doesn’t seem to know how to set-up the kills properly (i.e., string along the audience first, then the kill). There’s nothing on evidence here to indicate that Massa might actually have some talent. To be fair, Massa was hired to pen a straight-to-DVD genre sequel, so who knows, maybe he’s written one or several worthwhile spec scripts that helped him get this gig. If so, it’s unlikely anything else he’s written stands much of a chance to get made. Then again, the producers may already have the sequel script in hand. If not, then it’s all to the better for everyone involved. Seriously, it’s time to stop the pain.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16802&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/02/07 18:00:00