I just wasn’t a fan of “House on Haunted Hill.” William Castle’s utter masterpiece was turned into a Nine Inch Nails video with rapid fire editing, goofy atmosphere, CGI overload, and terrible acting even from Geoffrey Rush. “Return to House on Haunted Hill” was something I really wanted to give a chance. Thankfully, this is not a sequel in name only. This new installment takes place shortly after the ending of the first film where Sara’s (Ali Larter) sister Ariel discovers she’s killed herself after a mental breakdown, and learns of the house where Stephen Price held his party and allegedly went on a murder spree. Cue plot catalyst. Ariel discovers by a professor that there’s an ancient statue of a satanic cult somewhere in the hill house and he wants it. Lo and behold we have a rival group of relic hunters who also want it and will kill anyone for it.
Now, Ariel wants into the Hill house to see what made Sara go mad, and this statue supposedly will hold the secrets to this evil. Was “Return to House on Haunted Hill” a masterpiece? Hell no, but I just enjoyed the overall novel approach and more stable grasp of the concept that Garcia brings to the table in this sequel. It helps that it’s in keeping with the former film’s continuity, but the overall entertainment value here really makes for a good ninety minute experience. It’s better than the first film and Garcia’s pure visual style and his simplistic approach to the continuity is entertaining. And how about that? They even recast Jeffrey Combs as the evil doctor and head ghoul of the asylum who re-emerges as a demon of morality once the greedy relic hunters go snooping around Hill House. On the table of the Baphomet Idol and Five Million dollars, and the ghosts here make everyone of these poor saps pay with vicious result.
So, seriously, can someone explain what the entire purpose of the little statue was supposed to be? Did it mean that the statue held the powers of the house, or was it just keeping the doctor out of harms way of the vengeful spirits of the patients? It’s just hard to believe there’d be a small statue that kept this house evil rather than suggesting that all the horrible acts of torture tainted the place. But hey, I’m just a fan of karmic horror movies, it’s silly to think that a stupid small statue kept all the forces of evil locked in the house for so many years, and really just cheats us. Beyond that the whole hook to the film is just a lame and formulaic retread of past horror films involving a relative of a mad person discovering a mysterious force for themselves after the death thus cuing the inevitable thoughts of insanity after grief.
Is Ariel going insane or is she being haunted? We know the answer to that question, so don’t pretend it’s a mystery. The characters here aren’t as interchangeable. Our heroine who comes off much more courageously thanks to the solid performance by Amanda Righetti, there’s a fun turn by Erik Palladino, and the insanely sexy Cerina Vincent. Every character here had me reeling in my seat; I mean how can you not love villains who are so stupid they actually attempt to shoot ghosts? The pacing of the story is kept neat and tidy, and I was just never bored. This is actually one of the few sequels in the past year that have succeeded in living up to its hype, and that’s thanks to a good utilization of our demonic entities who force our characters to get through the bowels of hell to escape this smart house. Garcia also delivers for the gore freaks providing utterly gruesome deaths including an unusual face lift, and a henchman gives the ghosts a piece of his mind.
The monsters in the house are just much more intimidating to watch, and when they’re not on screen, the character chemistry is strong enough to keep us watching. Garcia has a competent visual style that keeps the film stylish and yet utterly tense, more so than the first film and “Return to House on Haunted Hill” was a considerable surprise from beginning to end. This is perfect Halloween viewing. It’s ninety minutes of gratuitous nudity, gruesome murders, in a sequel that tops the original in novelty, entertainment, and sheer visuals, period.