Darke Reviews | House on Haunted Hill (1999)

I regret missing this one in theatres back in 99. It took me until video release and a friend recommendation to get a shot at it. Now to be clear I was working roughly from 4pm to 2am at that time and we watched movie after work. The lights were completely off, leaving us with the TV as our only source of illumination. I have come to find atmosphere truly does help with how one thinks of a movie. So I admit going in my memories are fonder due to that atmosphere. Had I watched it at noon on a Sunday with  lovely blue skies (*shudders*)? Less likely to care or be impressed.

Does it work?

Well, let’s talk story. It’s classic haunted house meets slaughterhouse. The actual story credit here goes to Robb White, who passed away 9 years before the film, a frequent collaborator of William Castle. Castle, like Hammer, was a master of low budget horror in the 50’s and 60’s creating films we now revere as classics such as 13 Ghosts and the original House on Haunted Hill. This is important because this is the first film from Dark Castle productions, named in honor of William. The movie was given the screenplay treatment for the millennium by Dick Beebe. Beebe would later write Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and little else. Without comparing it to the original work I think the writer did a good job of setting up a good story, interesting characters, and good dialogue.

The director William Malone, another who sadly did not give us more, did a really good job with the atmosphere, blocking, and direction of the actors. The house is supposed to be a living, breathing entity here and they are 100% successful in that.  There are some very intelligent design choices in how and where they put the camera, lighting, and music. Under his direction and with the good script the characters avoid the stupid. They all hold, with one notable exception, skepticism for the supernatural like normal people. They react to the situation as normal people; you know…poorly.

Cast wise the film is fairly incredible for its time. Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) delivers his best possible Vincent Price impression. While Rush doesn’t try to emulate the great horror icon, he does attempt the style; even his character is named Price. There’s also Famke Janssen (X-Men), Taye Diggs (Rent), Chris Kattan (SNL), Ali Larter (Heroes, Resident Evil 3 & 4), and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Mortal Kombat). The Re-animator himself, Jeffrey Combs, makes a small cameo appearance as well. So the cast is small and packed with some rather decent actors. That explains why they can rely on quiet moments when they do and why there feels like the right levels of chemistry and performance from them as the movie progresses.  Rush of course dominates any scene he is in and is a fantastic enough actor to pull back when he needs to let the others have a moment. Kattan is actually funny in the right ways. Diggs and Larter are beautiful together. Explains why I like them so much in any other project, they just have something.

From an FX perspective the movie has two sides. Like Phantoms yesterday when they go practical every single beat works. KNB once again gives us the blood, gore, and prosthetics. It’s when they go digital that the movie doesn’t work as well. Even a few of the CG enhanced practical effects tend to be pretty weak. A few of the jump scares come across as ridiculous when the music doesn’t sync right and is just a hair too loud. Though when it goes practical it works so beautifully well. There’s um one glaring intensively massive effects flaw with the film in the final beat as the sun rises over the Pacific….

Just let that sink in.


The movie works. It’s just smart enough and holds up relatively well fifteen years later. I like its atmosphere. I like it’s overall logic. The acting. The script. The house. The Marilyn Manson cover of Sweet Dreams.

Really, I have to recommend this for any horror fans as a standalone film. Do not try to compare to the original (I am likely to do that this month). Judging on it’s own merits it is a rather good horror film. Hell I can chase my best friend out of the house by putting it on.

Funky ol movie, ain’t it?


Darke Reviews | Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010)

This is one of the more recent films I am reviewing this month and was unfortunately only a direct to DVD release. Even with that it wasn’t advertised and hard to hear about if you don’t peruse movie insider sites. I happened to come across this one back in 2007 when Superman Returns was still in the popular conciousness and Brandon Routh was cast as the title character. It as also based on an Italian comic series which makes it one of the rare Horror comic adaptations.

There’s not much to say about director Kevin Munroe, who has mostly done video game work and the 2007 CGI Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie; which will still likely be better than what Bay makes. For a rank amateur in the scheme of things he shows a surprising sense and appreciation of 1930’s and 40’s Noir films. He captured that pulp feel that came with the Private Dick character type and executed it better than most directors who have tried it. Rian Johnson’s “Brick” being one of the few exceptions.

The writing deserves some credit as well, a two writing team who tend to work together on other projects as well. Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, also responsible for A Sound of Thunder and the new Conan movie; with rumored work on Doctor Strange coming. While the dialogue and scenes aligned in the script are not particularly inventive, they don’t have to be to be entertaining. They found a way to blend humor, pulp and horror into a single film and do it well. The abomination that was RIPD this summer needed to use Dylan Dog as a basis. It may not have been an abyssmally horrific film had they even watched DD.

The story moves around a Private Investigator named Dylan Dog (Routh), a human who was once a mediator and policeman for the supernatural creatures of New Orleans. He gave up the game and became a normal P.I. His time away could not last as his assistant Marcus (Sam Huntington – Fanboys, Being Human (U.S.)) gets him into a case trying to solve the murder of the father of beautiful Elizabeth (Anita Briem – The Tudors). He finds himself thrust into the world once more and is forced to confront the monsters of his past, both literal and figurative. The vampires of New Orleans are lead by Vargas (Taye Diggs – Chicago, Private Practice) while the Werewolves are lead by Gabriel (Peter Stormare – a lot!). Can he uncover the mystery of the killer and solve the case and maybe save the world of monsters & men.

Routh is an absolute natural in the film who comes across as a man who truly was part of the supernatural world for many years. He handles every situation with a kind of Laissez-faire or Blase attitude while those around him, especially Huntington, react the way normal people do. Even the delivery of his voice over lines that add to the pulpy detective feel show a keen attention to the nature of the role. He almost seems to channel Bogarts style of “I’ve seen it all” as he goes through the investigation. Even his questioning of Digg’s Vargas, may read as flat to others, but is spot on for the character he is playing. I really think he deserves more work than he gets and that he has a fine sense of timing that is under rated. I also can’t deny seeing him topless a few times isn’t bad on the eyes.

The rest of the cast is fine as well with Huntington providing a humorous counter balance to the dry wit of Routh. Stormare as always is just damn entertaining to watch, his Lucifer in COnstantine is amazing, but he sadly does not get enough screen time. Diggs is a beautiful man and just seems to relish in every aspect of the role he is given. Briem perhaps is one of the flatest performances in the film, but they can’t all be perfect.

As far as the effects and other technicals such as Make up the film does the subjects justice. The weakest effect is the final creature where they depended on CG for a transformation. The rest of the film has some pretty solid Make up work and practical effects. Once again this proves practical is greater than digital when possible.

For the TL;DR crew….

I highly recommend this noir story. It is suitable for people who are squeamish about their horror and has just enough monsters and mystery for everyone else. The movie is not nearly well known enough and I found it rather entertaining.

Thats the key here, it is entertaining. So check out Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I think you might be a fan.
Tomorrow’s review will warn you to stay off the moors (this is an easy hint!)