RETURN TO HOUSE ON
I have to admit I am a big fan of the 1999 remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL- Geoffrey Rush was an absolute hoot in the lead role and the movie proved to be a great mix of thrills, chills, gore and special effects. My biggest (or should I say only) complaint about that film was the fact that Jeffrey Combs ghostly character Dr. Richard Vannacutt was nowhere to be seen during the film’s climax. Flash forward eight years and we are presented with a direct-to-DVD sequel, which rectifies shortchanging Jeffrey Combs character in the first go around.
RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL ($28) puts the ghostly Dr. Vannacutt to good use for the sequel’s brief running time and Jeffrey Combs is always interesting to watch, even if he’s just standing around looking menacing. Since all the interesting bits of exposition about the film’s setting were utilized for the first film, the sequel shorthands them into some creepy flashback sequences from the 1930s, which depict Dr. Vannacutt butchering the patients confined to his hospital for the criminally insane, as well as his own comeuppance at their hands.
RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL finds one of the survivors of the first film dead of an apparent suicide, however we quick learn she was murdered by a treasure hunter looking for Dr. Vannacutt long missing journal, which may contain the location of an ancient statue worth millions. Soon, we have a number of willing and unwilling participants of an ill-advised treasure hunt locked inside the long abandoned insane asylum, where they find themselves at the mercy of the angry spirits trapped inside. The threadbare story is just an excuse to gather a group of characters in the film’s title setting and dispatch them in a grisly fashion, which in itself, isn’t always a bad thing. The cast of RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL also includes Amanda Righetti, Erik Palladino, Cerina Vincent, Tom Riley, Andrew Lee Potts and Steven Pacey.
Warner Home Video has made RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. For a direct-to-DVD production, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL really looks quite good. Image sharpness and detail are quite strong, with only a few mildly soft shots cropping up. Colors are saturated at a relatively natural level, while flesh tones do look good… well, on the living characters anyway. Blacks are deep and the whites are clean. Contrast is generally smooth, and shadow detail is really nice. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed.
RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL comes with a respectable quality Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Between the scares, the movie is very talky and the sound design reflects that. However, there are moments where the soundtrack comes to life, but it never gets to that gee whiz level. For the most part, the outlying channels are utilized for ambient sound and musical fill. Fidelity is great, whether the track is reproducing music or sound effects. The bass channel kicks in from time to time, but only when the material warrants. Voices are natural sounding and the dialogue is easy to understand. A Spanish 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Character Confessions offer the individual characters talking about how they wound up fighting for their lives to get out of the haunted asylum. The Search For An Idol: Dr. Richard Hammer's Quest is a mini-documentary on the statue that brings the characters to the abandoned asylum. Four Additional Scenes are resurrected from the cutting room floor. A Mushroomhead Music Video for Simple Survival closes out the extras.
For Jeffrey Combs fans, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a fun way to spend eighty-one minutes. Warner’s DVD looks great and sounds just fine. When you check out RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, be sure to pick up the preceding 1999 offering, as well the Vincent Price original.
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