Tag Haunted House

Doorway, The (2000)

The Doorway (2000)

…to hell

Four friends are given the chance to renovate an old, abandoned house after they find out that the owner is willing to pay a lot of money for someone to do it and allow them to stay there rent-free whilst they carry out the work. But what they didn’t realise is that in the basement is a doorway which leads straight to Hell.

 

The Doorway only stuck out from the mountains of low-grade rubbish on offer in the horror section in my local video store because of Roy Scheider’s name plastered on the front cover as ‘the star’ of the film. I’ve liked the guy since Jaws and he’s a criminally underrated actor (check out The French Connection for further proof). It’s a pity he was typecast as Chief Brody because the man had so much more to give as an actor. Unfortunately Scheider’s name also obscured the fact that Roger Corman was producer. Whenever Corman attaches himself to a project, you know that the results are going to be low budget and, in ninety-five percent of the cases, pretty rubbish. Clearly designed to capitalise on the ‘haunted house’ fad of the early 00s with The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill, the only scary thing is how much time you won’t get back after watching.

The Doorway is ultra-low budget which tries to do a lot of usual genre work but without half of the impact due to the lack of money. The house isn’t very big and sparsely decorated, Scheider aside there are no known names in the cast, there’s little in the way of special effects and some hokey gore in the final third. It’s not really bank-busting material and certainly something that doesn’t really do its plot justice. If you’re going to have demons and ghosts populating your film but don’t have the budget to show them, then you need to think creatively about how to scare people without showing them a lot – Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead tops the list when it comes to something like that. The Doorway fizzles out most of it’s scares, turning into unintentional laughter when you realise that these characters are terrified of things that are happening in the house, yet the audience hasn’t had much to go on. With a title like this, you’d expect some sort of Doom-style eruption of demons from Hell, not a few horny ghosts.

The Doorway saves most of its ‘top’ material for the second half around the time that Scheider shows up. I say ‘top’ material as it’s not riveting in the slightest at any point. The sad state of affairs is that you’ll get more excitement out of the copious number of sex scenes in the film.  The abandoned house wasn’t so abandoned a long time ago and it’s where demons had massive orgies. There is plenty of sex and nudity thrown around. Characters have sex with each other a lot and they also have sex with this female demon who does the rounds. She’s a bit of a tart. This is virtually the first half of the film. There are a few failed scares and attempts to generate some suspense and atmosphere but the amateurish production design really harms the mood.

I was wrong to be duped into thinking that someone like Roy Scheider wouldn’t accept a role in something as low budget as this. I can’t believe that he was that desperate to feed his family that he’d star in something like this but, unfortunately, I’ve been proven wrong. Scheider is the best bit of the film by a clear mile yet he has little to do and it’s little more than a glorified cameo. He’s in the film for a total of around fifteen minutes tops and gets his face ripped apart for his troubles. Scheider was in his twilight years here and was accepting roles in all manner of low budget action and horror films including Dracula II: Ascension and Dracula III: Legacy. His presence in this is solely to attempt to give the film some sort of credibility and to be fair to the guy, he does just that in his limited screen time. They should have stumped up some more money to give him a few more minutes.

The Doorway does have a decent script which seems like a contradiction given how badly I’ve been bashing it. The characters aren’t saddled with doing stupid things like going upstairs to investigate mysterious noises. In fact when they find out that the house is haunted, the first thing they do is leave! To prove my script theory wrong, they promptly return but at least they bring a ghost hunter with them to attempt to get rid of the demons. So common sense prevails and logic – you still wouldn’t get me going back anywhere near that house. They actually talk like real people too. It’s not a lot, but it’s something

 

I’m not much of a fan of haunted house films and The Doorway is no exception. Low budget and lame, there’s nothing to recommend in the slightest. Someone please close the door, there’s a nasty draught coming in!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

House (1985)

House (1985)

Ding dong, you’re dead.

Author Roger Cobb is a troubled man, having been separated from his wife; their only son Jimmy disappeared without a trace and his aunt committed suicide by hanging. On top of everything else, he has been pressured by his publisher to write another book. After his aunt’s funeral, Cobb decides to move into her house for a while to write his new novel about his experiences of Vietnam. He quickly becomes haunted by visions of demons from his past and wonders if he is going crazy.

 

No this is not a change of genre for me as I review Hugh Laurie’s TV drama. House is the first instalment of a horror series which I’ve never really gotten around to watch. There’s four of them in the House series but the front covers and posters never did it for me, and I’m not the biggest fan of ‘haunted house’ films – my query is why someone would willingly choose to stay in a house that is being tormented by ghosts and spirits when they could run for the hills at the first opportunity. Thankfully, House isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill haunted house film, gaining something of cult status upon its release back in the 80s, and the end result is something a million miles away from what I was expecting.

A trio of good hands from the Friday the 13th series get together here to make a screwball film which could only have come about in the 1980s. With producer Sean Cunningham, director Steve Miner (who directed the second and third Friday the 13th films) and composer Harry Manfredini, as well as a story by director/writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad), House is a silly 80s cheese fest which is a lot of fun if you like your horror and comedy rolled up together with a knowing wink and shrug of the shoulders. Unless you stick with it past the first third, you’d never think that House would turn out the way it does. Its almost as if the script originally had the film panning out as a serious supernatural thriller but then the writers seem to give up that idea and just throw in a load of rubber monsters and goofy humour. It works! There’s a vibe here along the lines of some Raimi-esque The Evil Dead film, though House never quite reaches those levels of silliness or scariness.

The tone is light-hearted and not too overtly frightening – think of Dekker’s The Monster Squad for something along a similar tone and atmosphere. Take for instance a scene in which Cobb chases a little child around the house – a child who has a dismembered hand crawling up his back. The slapstick approach to the scene allows the tone to remain light, despite a child being in danger. Other scenes involving Cobb trying to stop said hand from attacking his attractive neighbour who is flirting with him and blissfully unaware of the corpse in the bags add to the slapstick approach. But it never quite goes all of the way with the comedy, holding back from really going the extra mile. This is a big problem with House – it’s fun without being hysterical. You’ll sit and smile at some of the goings-on, but you’ll rarely crack out into fits of laughter.

Despite lacking a killer instinct with anything it throws at the camera, House does get its make-up effects spot on and has a lot of fun with them. The copious number of latex monsters that inhabit the house and attempt to kill Cobb keeps things flowing nicely and the pace is film is swift. They look ridiculous but the practical rubber effects do lend the proceedings a goofy charm and have that unmistakable 80s look, despite the obvious limitations. It’s here where a bit more pushing of the envelope and the rating would have worked. More blood and guts, particularly with the disposing of the demon version of his ex-wife, would have worked wonders to add more hilarity and ludicrousness. I guess House was never designed as that kind of film. The less said about Big Ben, the hulking zombie remains of one of Cobb’s old Vietnam comrades, the better. He turns up in the final third and supposedly links all of the little narrative strands together in his “it was me all along” speech. He looks like a rejected version of Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films (or at least the later ones where he was actually a walking corpse). He’s easily the weakest-looking of the monsters on show here, though that’s probably because actor Richard Moll is a little more recognisable underneath the make-up than some of the other actors in make-up are.

William Katt makes for a decent lead role, handling the serious elements just as easily as the comedy and action moments as and when they are required. There are other actors in here with supporting roles, but they don’t really contribute a whole lot to the narrative – this is Katt’s film from the start. He does have rather dull one-note delivery, but it works to convey the different moods and feelings that Cobb experiences. Seeing his facial reactions to some of the sights and sounds he faces is one of the highlights of the film – the scene where he sets up a row of cameras and dons his Vietnam gear in preparation for midnight is great. Unfortunately, the big pay-off in the finale where Cobb redeems himself is underwhelming but that’s because the film had shifted gears from the emotional thriller aspects to willingly embrace the cheese and dorkiness of the whole thing.

 

If there’s one thing you can say about House, it’s that it manages to deliver a fair amount of silliness, though without any true laughs or scares. Some of the effects have aged badly and the film is a little too lightweight for its own good, but it’s rarely boring. You just don’t seem to get enough of anything good whenever it crops up. It’s not for the want of trying but I guess rose-tinted glasses will make fans who grew up on this remember it in a lot better light than it probably deserves.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

Room for every nightmare… A nightmare in every room.

Making a bet with his publisher that he can write a trashy horror novel in just twenty-four, American writer Kenneth Magee heads off to an abandoned manor house in Wales so that he can write in peace, quiet and, more importantly, in a suitable atmosphere. However, upon arrival at the old house, his expected solitude is disturbed by a number of individuals who arrive at the house throughout the night. Magee soon finds himself at the centre of a decades-old family secret that is to be put to rights tonight.

 

House of the Long Shadows is what I would call the 80s horror equivalent of The Expendables. The only film to feature four of the biggest names in horror, if not the biggest, the film was a last dying gasp from an Anglo-horror cycle which had started back in the late 1950s by Hammer, had a glorious heyday which changed horror films as we know them today, and had gradually died out as audiences flocked to see the likes of Friday the 13th and The Exorcist. Though they had individually worked with each other over the previous decades, this would be the first time that Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and John Carradine would all star in the same film…and better yet, they would all share screen time in a historic moment for horror fans. Reuniting these legends for one last hurrah was designed to capitalise on their names alone and hope that they could still draw at the box office. Sadly, House of the Long Shadows was not a commercial success, though it’s not for the want of trying on the part of the four men.

It’s a shame that House of the Long Shadows is such a dull affair because Cushing, Lee, Price and Carradine are all excellent in it, it’s just the script that falls completely flat. More of a whodunit murder-mystery set inside a creaky old haunted house, the film is slow, lethargic and doesn’t really kick in until two thirds of the running time have passed. It spends the bulk of its early running time introducing the setting and trying to build up a sense of Gothic atmosphere. Whilst the haunted house setting, with creaky floors, secret passages, grand staircases, furniture covered in white sheets, gloomy basements and such like, complete with requisite thunder and lightning, might have worked back in the 1930s, it fails miserably to generate any sort of atmosphere in the modern setting. With audiences de-sensitised to violence, this old school throwback appears quaint and antiquated and the clichés just aren’t scary anymore.

House of the Long Shadows spends far too long putting all of the pieces in place. As great as Cushing, Lee, Price and Carradine are in it, there’s only so much time you can spend listening to them talking to each other and slowly expanding upon the plot (I mean in a character sense – I actually could have sat and listened to them all night if they were doing a round-table discussion about their careers). It gives them nothing worthwhile to do for ages – a crime against humanity when you one of the greatest casts in horror history. The film does begin to pick up as the mystery begins to unravel and the final third, when the characters start to wind up on the receiving end of some unpleasant treatment, definitely hits the right notes. There is a bit of blood and a bit of violence but with the elder actors involved, it was never going to be a bloodbath. The narrative leads up to a number of convoluted plot twists (one of which is predictable from the very beginning) which begin to make little to no sense if you think back over the course of the film and begin to pick holes.

Not only was House of the Long Shadows the first time the four horror maestros ever teamed up, it was sadly the last time that Cushing and Lee were to pair up, having done so twenty-three times prior. The film brought down the curtain on one of the most, if not the most, prolific horror partnerships of all time. Cushing went into semi-retirement after this which was a pity as he clearly had a few more good roles left in him.

**Spoiler alert – though it was to be their last film together, House of the Long Shadows ironically marked the only time that Lee managed to kill Cushing on-screen, with Cushing doing the honours in a previous six horror films.**

As I’ve alluded to, the four men all work wonderfully together and it’s a crying shame that they never had the opportunity to do so previously when they were all a little younger and spritelier. Each actor gets a fantastic entrance in the film, with Price’s being the highlight (and which plays upon expectations that it might be someone else), and a few moments to shine on their own before they’re joined by the others.

Carradine, starring in films since the 1930s, gets the least screen time but nearly crippled with arthritis, he does what he can with his smaller role. Carradine had the lesser of the careers in comparison with the other three men, appearing in a number of low budget films in glorified cameos in his late career, so his reduced part is fitting with his reduced status. Lee is his usual stern and authoritarian self, playing his part with command and control and keeping a lid on the proceedings with a no-nonsense approach. Lee came off like this a lot in his films which is a shame because when he was able to let loose a little, be it on camera or behind the scenes, he was actually a very warm, approachable individual.

Cushing gets to have a lot of fun, playing around with a bit of a speech impediment in his role as the cowardly, nervous Sebastian. In something of a role reversal from his early career, Cushing’s character is scared of everything, can’t make rational decisions very quickly and isn’t much use in a tricky situation. Unlike a lot of his ‘evil’ roles, this Cushing character is actually very sympathetic. It’s Price who steals the show, delivering his lines with all of his flamboyant gusto and faux Shakespearean delivery. His “Please! Don’t interrupt me when I’m soliloquising” moment is an excellent nod to his reputation as something of a hammy actor.

The younger supporting cast are dreadful is had to be said. Dezi Arnaz Jr., as Magee, deserves a lot of stick for his wooden performance (if acting against those four men didn’t get you to raise your game in the slightest, you didn’t deserve to be an actor) and the least said about his ‘love interest’ Mary, played by Julie Peasgood, the better. Every line she delivers is woeful. If this is the best that director Pete Walker could find to play off against the titans, they he really needed to look harder.

 

A unique slice of horror history that will never happen again in cinema, House of the Long Shadows falls pretty flat as a feature film in itself but let’s face it, everyone will watch this to see the four veteran actors do what they had been doing for years…only this time on the screen together and doing it with a lot of obvious fun. No matter what the quality of the end product, horror audiences were always going to hold this in a special place in their heart. The film is pretty rubbish, however the history and legacy make it essential viewing.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Spookies (1986)

Spookies (1986)

The ultimate in fright and fun

A group of teenagers looking for a party get trapped inside an old mansion by an evil sorcerer who needs human sacrifices to give eternal life to his bride. Inside, they are threatened by all manner of monsters and demons.

 

With the advent of home video and the successive increase in audiences during the 80s, perhaps no other genre came off better than that of the horror genre. In a manner of speaking, almost anyone with a camera and a bit of money could go out and make and film and then release it straight-to-video. It’s something we take for granted now and something to which the big studios have taken over once they adjusted to it. But back in the day there was an explosion of B-movie genre flicks, most of which have been consigned to the scrapheap of history. For avid horror buffs, this isn’t so much a scrapheap but a minefield. For every couple of hits you take, there’s always a little gem around the corner. Spookies can’t be considered such a gem but it’s a film which does more to personify the 80s B-movie market than most other films.

One of the most bizarre, disjointed horror films I’ve ever seen, Spookies is actually quite a hoot if you just sit back and see how much the makers of the film crammed into the house as ‘surprises.’ This one will leave you scratching your head in confusion, shaking your head in disgust and then nodding your head in delight. Think of it as walking through a haunted house ride at a fairground, taking you on a journey through the weird, the wonderful, the eerie and the scary. I actually prefer to think of Spookies as eighty five minutes of pure FX wizardry as opposed to an actual film. It’s like a tour-de-force of various monsters, demons, ghosts and ghouls as the cast of characters split up to explore the mansion with little structure to their adventure.

The characters are one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. You know the type by now: joker, jock, slut, nerd, shy girl, bitch, etc. Spookies spends little time in letting us get to know them and even less time giving them worthwhile reasons to go to the mansion. As soon as they get to the mansion and split up, that’s where the fun begins. Trying to explain any form of plot would be pointless as nothing much makes sense from the opening scene right down to the ending. As I’ve said, it’s best to just sit back and take everything as it comes because as crazy as this is, you just never know what is around the next corner!

We’ve got zombies lurking in the graveyard outside, muck men who live in the basement, a spider woman, a possessed ouija board witch, statues of the Grim Reaper which come to life, imps and even more bizarre things which kill the cast one-by-one. Treading a fine line between being serious and being silly, Spookies mixes it up at every opportunity. So after one comedy scene in which the monsters are played for laughs, the next one will be deadly serious. The make-up effects for the monsters are exceptionally done. The transformation of the spider-woman is great, the Grim Reaper looks a bit comical but you won’t forget him in a hurry and the muck men, although flatulent creatures, are disgusting creations, aptly named after their revolting appearance. It’s clear where the budget for this one went. Literally anything and everything in the mansion is liable to come to life and try and harm the characters. And let me state one more time that there’s no point in trying to understand what and why – just let it happen and you’ll be better off for it.

*After writing this review, I did a little bit of research on the film and it turns out that it has a problematic history which explains many things. Spookies started life out as Twisted Souls in 1984 but for some reason it was shelved for a few years until a new director was brought in, new scenes were filmed and added to the existing footage and the result is what you see on the screen. No wonder the film is so disjointed! It’s not bad editing or a bad script when you’ve got three directors, each coming at the film from a completely different standpoint, each with different scripts, budgets, actors, etc. This explains why the film is such a continual contrast to itself and why nothing really seems to click together.

 

Spookies doesn’t hold up well as a proper feature film for obvious reasons. It seems too much of a patched together creation solely based around what make-up effects the FX team could come up with. But what FX! A tour-de-force of 80s horror at its most grandiose and most sublime, Spookies is as entertaining as it is infuriating!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)

It’s been six years since Sara Wolfe escaped from Hill House and no one believed her version of the events surrounding the massacre of the other guests. Even her own sister, Ariel, ignored her and refused to return her calls. But, when Sara seemingly commits suicide, Ariel heads over to her apartment to try and piece together what happened. Here she encounters Dr Hammer, a college professor who says Sara was working with him to locate the Baphomet Idol and they believed it to be located in the house. But the doctor is not the only person looking for the artefact and a rival and his armed gang kidnap Ariel and her boyfriend and force them to go the house to look for it. With the doctor and a party of his own already at the house, the groups soon discover that the house is alive and locks them all inside for a night they will never forget.

 

I’m got a bit of a soft spot for the remake of The House on Haunted Hill. It’s not a great film and is very much the living proof of style over substance. But there was a genuinely spooky atmosphere to it, a script full of twists and turns and a solid cast of actors (can’t go wrong with a bit of Geoffrey Rush hamming it up) to end up with a film that greatly blew away my meagre expectations. Fast forward a few years and it seems that no one has really learnt their lesson, offering up a sequel which is very much style over substance – only this time upping the gore and taking away the script and the solid cast of actors. What you get is the film that would have been made six to eight years ago had the audience of that time been as undemanding as today’s audience (get it?).

I guess there’s not a lot you can really do with a haunted house film. It’s not like the house can actually move so you’ve got to get the people into the house. The set up is mercifully brief. All you really need to know is that most of the main characters have some links/relationships with one another and the ones who don’t (i.e. the hired goons armed with guns) are there to make up the numbers and give us the early body count numbers. The script is lousy in all honesty but apart from some ear-splitting moments of dialogue and some ridiculous decision-making on behalf of the characters, there’s not a lot going to offend anyone. The whole story about the Baphomet Idol does more harm than good too. The ghosts could have remained as they were from the original – the tormented spirits of the victims of Dr Vannacutt. But the new take on the story is the only reason the characters have for going into the house so I guess that’s why it’s been put here.

Speaking of Dr Vannacutt, he does return here and he’s as malicious as ever. Credit should go to Jeffrey Combs as  he manages to convey so much hate, perversion and general sadism for a character who doesn’t say an awful lot (in fact I’m hard pressed to remember him speaking at all). The rest of the cast do alright I guess. Amanda Righetti struts around wearing a glorious white tank top and is frequently getting wet (being drenched in the rain, thrown into a hydrotherapy pool and culminating in a fight in the showers!) so no complaints there. Erik Palladino grates badly as the rival looking for the Idol but it’s down to the script giving him clunking speeches and “boo me, I’m the bad guy” lines aplenty.

The others in the cast round off the stock characters: slutty girl, comic relief and expert. And not forgetting the armed gang who consist of a black guy (see ya later), a lesbian (who gets seduced by naked ghosts to give us the T&A quota for the film) and some rough English-speaking guys who sound like they have wandered off the set of a new Guy Ritchie movie.

Visually, it’s almost identical to the remake. As well as using the same sets, the damp set of the basement and the badly lit underground corridors revamp the atmosphere and actually manages to crank up the tension and atmosphere way more than it has any right to do. Remember this is a sequel shot on a lower budget. Expect plenty of the usual indulgence of quick snappy editing and frenetic camerawork. The ghosts look as freaky as ever before. The instruments of torture strewn around the house look as uninviting as they did in the original. Even the gore quotient is high. A character has their face sliced off, another one has their brain removed and another is dragged thrown a hole in a wall. There’s plenty more in store and it’s a good splatter ride if you like that sort of thing. At a thin eighty-one minutes long, the action gets going early on and the pacing is decent enough to avoid spells of boredom.

 

Return to House on Haunted Hill is about a decent a sequel as you’d expect nowadays. Serving only as a pointless remake of a remake, it offers up genre goods to satisfy those with weaker demands. If you liked the remake then be sure to check this out because it doesn’t do a bad job of recreating the atmosphere. We’ve just we’ve been there, done that and put the house up for sale when we’ve finished.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆