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Warner Home Video presents
Return to House on Haunted Hill HD-DVD (2007)

"You're not seriously suggesting we all split up in a haunted house, are you?"
- Kyle (Andrew-Lee Potts)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 22, 2007

Stars: Amanda Righetti, Cerina Vincent, Erik Palladino, Tom Riley
Other Stars: Andrew-Lee Potts, Steven Pacey, Jeffrey Combs
Director: Victor Garcia

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme gore, horror violence, language, nudity, sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:21m:08s
Release Date: October 16, 2007
UPC: 085391169895
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill was both annoying and superfluous. The direct-to-video sequel to that remake manages to be even moreso, though it does feature some gratification to gorehounds, and the HD DVD version offers an amusing "choose your own adventure" style to make it into an entirely different movie if you don't like the one that the creators gave you.

Ariel (Amanda Righetti) is the high-strung editor of a fashion magazine who keeps getting annoying calls from her sister Sara, who was one of the survivors of the first picture. That doesn't last long here, however, since Sara's offed before she even gets any screen time, an apparent suicide driven mad by the events of the previous picture. Ariel and her fashion photographer Paul are seized by a group of thugs led by Desmond Niles (Erik Palladino) and dragged back to Hill House, a massive Deco haunted mansion/insane asylum in the Los Angeles hills, thanks to Sara having passed on to Ariel the journals of mad Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs, apparently relegated to playing nothing but mad doctors these days—talk about narrow typecasting). But Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey), a professor of archaeology and medieval history (an unlikely combination) has also dragged two students, Michelle (Cerina Vincent) and Kyle (Andrew-Lee Potts) up to Hill House. It seems both groups are in search of the evil Idol of Baphomet, which they all believe is somewhere in the house. Once inside, the house goes into lockdown and the ghosts come out, leading to the expected body count mayhem.

As one would expect for a low-budget rehash of an already sad mess, the script doesn't make much sense and the acting isn't worth much. While at least there was a glimmer of an explanation for the ghosts' malevolence the first time around, they just seem to be on a search and destroy mission this time out for no particular reason. The script then gives them motivations arbitrarily not once but twice, leading to a whiplash effect that makes the viewer glad that the picture is so short (barely 70 minutes once you exclude the lengthy credits). In the meantime, however, there's plenty of blood, gore, sludge and nastiness to go around.

The female leads seem to have been chosen for their ability to fill out tank tops rather than any acting chops. Righetti has one mode: ticked off, and can't muster any emotion over her sister's death beyond covering her face for a few instants. Palladino is modestly enjoyable as an over-the-top villain for hire, though he does get a few good moments near the end as he goes paranoid and starts to believe his own crew is after the Idol for themselves. Combs doesn't get much to do except be lit from below and glower menacingly. The rest of the cast is interchangeable and pretty much just there for the kill count in any event.

The Bulgarian/Ukrainian production design does manage to be suitably creepy, with a palpable sense of decay that helps up the ominous goings-on. The effect is spoiled a bit by the strobe-based appearance of the ghosts; while it's discomfiting it's a fairly cheap trick rather than frightening content. In its favor, the number of jump scares is appreciably low. While there's a certain amount of Scream style self-awareness, the humor in that franchise is completely absent here. Stick around for the tag after the credits for the setup to (oh no!) the next movie.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Whatever the faults of the script, story and acting, Warner has done a fine job with the HD transfer. Shadow detail, a must in a gloomy setting such as this one, is excellent, supporting nice definition while avoiding brightening up the surroundings. The texture of the slime, dust and assorted ectoplasm is first-rate. I didn't notice any edge enhancement or other artifacting at any point. Highly recommended on the technical front.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Only an English language DD+ 5.1 track is offered, but it's very solid. In particular, there are loads of LFE that help increase the unease factor significantly. Directionality is very good, with ghost effects being well placed (and moving uncomfortably fast, for that matter). The soundtrack goes a long ways towards providing whatever fear element one may get from a viewing of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Play Movie Your Way
Extras Review: All the extras of the standard DVD are ported over. These include a fairly lame set of 19 promos featuring the characters providing their backstory, as if a documentary crew had wandered into Hill House with them. They're almost entirely fluff, though the ones for Harue (Clyta Rainford) do actually provide some additional context for the picture, while the hostile colloquy in the segments between Kyle and Warren (Chucky Venice) is fairly amusing.

A short featurette on The Search for an Idol (2m:51s) provides a bit of fictional backstory to the Idol of Baphomet, narrated by Steven Pacey in character as Dr. Hammer. It's nothing special but it does pull together a fairly extensive gallery of demonic art that may be of interest. There are four insubstantial deleted scenes that don't add much to the picture, and a music video by the band Mushroomhead for their end title song Simple Survival is here for those that find such things amusing.

The star extra on the HD DVD is a feature that allows you to "Play the Movie Your Way." If this option is selected, periodically (though not too often) you'll be given a choice to have the characters take a different action from the one they actually take in the feature, and you get to see what happens. For the most part, this just sends you off to a new bit of film that includes some additional incidents but then rejoins the main storyline (but you do get to see Warren's final fate, which isn't included in the feature). However, it's also possible to make choices that cause the movie end abruptly, with the entire cast perishing in a gory bloodbath. Somehow, that's fairly satisfying in and of itself. The branching is quite smooth other than the periodic halts to make your decision, and when the branch rejoins the main feature it's imperceptible. According to the copy on the package, there are 96 variations, though most of that figure is achieved through the power of exponentiation. It's kind of a hoot, though one would wish it had been included on a more worthwhile picture. But killing off the entire cast was indeed worth the price of admission.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

It's about as bad as you'd expect from its pedigree. While the production design and effective soundtrack try to rescue it, there's just too much wrong to salvage. Please, no third trip to Hill House. The HD transfer is splendid though, and the branching feature is fun.


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