The 1999 movie House on Haunted Hill was basically just a gore fest. The plot was thin at best (a millionaire offers a group of people $1 million each, if they can survive the night in a former mental asylum), but people watched it. The one really good thing about it was that it had a good cast, headed by Geoffrey Rush.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided that a sequel was a good idea, so now (8 years later) we have a follow up to the original, appropriately titled Return to House on Haunted Hill.
This movie picks up with Ariel (Amanda Righetti) finding that her sister Sara (one of the survivors from the first movie) has committed suicide. She soon meets Dr. Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey), a professor at a local university, who had been in contact with Sara regarding a journal that tells of an ancient artifact that is assumed to reside inside the Hill house.
Dr. Hammer and two of his students head into the abandoned house to search for the relic, called the Baphomet idol, which Hammer has been studying for 20 years. Ariel and her photographer friend, Paul (Tom Riley), arrive separately and unwillingly, having been kidnapped by Desmond (Erik Palladino), who discovered that Ariel held the journal that revealed the location of the statue.
What comes next could have been predicted by pretty much anyone: the treasure seekers get trapped in the house, and they are picked off, one by one, by the tortured souls that reside therein.
The story is, obviously, fairly weak. The movie is entertaining to watch, but it really isn’t very scary or suspenseful. Instead of opting to come up with some new ways to surprise people, Return to House on Haunted Hill basically recycles the style of the first movie and expects it to still work, almost a decade later. The creepiest thing about this movie is the ghost of Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), the sadistic physician who used to run the mental asylum. He doesn’t have any lines in the movie, but he does an excellent job of looking purely evil.
So far as acting goes, everyone does a surprisingly good job. Everyone, that is, except Cerina Vincent. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, Vincent played the part of the foreign exchange student in Not Another Teen Movie—she’s the one who was nude in every one of her scenes. In that movie she did a great job, and I laughed every time she was on camera. Sadly, I reacted the same way to her acting in this movie, even though her role was supposed to be fairly serious. The most gratifying scene for me in this movie was the one in which her character is killed in a rather odd, if interesting way.
Return to House on Haunted Hill is packaged as a single DVD in a standard case, with a cardboard slipcover. The cover art is fairly unoriginal, as it copies the style of the original movie’s box art. Images of some of the main characters and a few of the ghosts appear inside a Rorschach-style image of a hand.
Video is presented in widescreen format. The movie has a very dark look to it, which works well for the mood that it is trying to set. The picture quality is excellent.
Audio is crisp and clean, and definitely helps to set the mood of the film. Dolby 5.1 surround is nice, and it enhances the scenes where strange noises are coming from practically every direction.
Oddly, this DVD does not include a director’s commentary. Those are practically standard fare these days, so I was a bit disappointed not to find one. The disc does, however, contain a few other interesting special features, including:
- Additional Scenes—these don’t really add much to the story, but they’re interesting to watch if you want to see some of the material that didn’t make the final cut
- Character Confessionals Gallery—short, in-character, commentaries from the main cast members
- The Search for an Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer’s Quest—a 3-minute in-character piece, where Dr. Hammer talks about the Baphomet idol
- Simple Survival Music Video—the music video for Mushroomhead’s song, Simple Survival
Return to House on Haunted Hill is pretty much more of the same thing from the first movie. If you want to see a decent horror movie about a haunted house full of bloodthirsty ghosts, you would be just as well to go buy the original; I wouldn’t feel right telling someone to spend $20 on this.