Plot: What’s it about?
The asylum run by Dr. Vannacut (Jeffrey Combs) has been shut down for decades, but the spirits within remain active, as some unfortunate visitors have discovered. Ariel Wolfe (Amanda Righetti) has just learned that her estranged sister became suicidal after her visit to the haunted asylum, overcome by the evil she experienced. Soon after she finds out about her sister’s death, Ariel meets up with professor Richard Hammer (Steven Pacey) and his entourage. He believes the asylum is where a valuable and powerful item known as the Baphomet idol is located, a statue of a demon god. So the group travels to the asylum to search for the statue, only to find a band of mercenaries also at the location and also after the idol. Now as both sides venture inside, they find themselves trapped inside, but can anyone survive the madness that soon unfolds?
The remake of The House on Haunted Hill wasn’t too bad, which is an accomplishment, given the parade of inferior horror remakes we’ve seen of late. Now we have Return to House on Haunted Hill, a direct to home video sequel to the remake, but how does it stack up? As a devoted horror fan, I’ve learned to curb my expectations and that is good, because while not terrible, this movie isn’t that good. The story is on the same line as the original with new faces, but there isn’t the same sense of fun horror present. I did appreciate the ample gore and female skin on showcase, but the writing was lackluster. The sense of humor is a little off, so instead of sharp dialogue, we have rather flat stuff here. The real draw of this high definition release isn’t the movie itself though, instead its the navigational cinema option. This allows us to make choices throughout the movie and while it doesn’t feel natural, it is much better than previous attempts at the concept. Return to House on Haunted Hill is decent if you’re a horror fan, so give it a rental and be sure to check out the navigational cinema mode.
Video: How does it look?
Return to House on Haunted Hill is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. In clear defiance of its direct to video status, the movie looks fantastic here. The production values show on screen, with a refined and crisp visual presence. I saw no grain or debris, while overall depth is more than solid, with impressive subtle details visible throughout. Even in darker scenes, detail remains strong, thanks in part to accurate contrast levels. The colors have been stylized, which means hues aren’t natural, but they look as intended, which is what counts. I did notice a few minor issues here and there, but all in all this transfer looks quite good and fans should be quite pleased.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 option isn’t as memorable as the visual transfer, but it sounds fine. I say fine because the basics are covered, but the mix misses a lot of potential presence. This is a horror movie, but the surrounds don’t do much for atmosphere, which is a let down. I’ve grown used to being immersed in eerie presence, but here things are more front loaded and that detracts from the atmosphere. The surrounds do see some action, but it is infrequent at best. The music sounds good, but again, the surrounds don’t kick in much to lend a hand. At least dialogue is rock solid, so no vocals are hard to hear or understand. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As I mentioned above, this disc offers a navigational cinema option, kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure mode. The choices are basic and don’t impact the main plot line too much, but its still fun. The additional footage is as polished as the main feature too, so the process seems fluid and seamless. Not quite the “interactive movie” of the future, but it is a big step forward and it adds some value to this release. This disc also includes some deleted scenes, a couple of brief promotional featurettes, and a music video from Mushroomhead.