Review: “House On Haunted Hill (1999 Remake)” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a break from the comedy genre and re-watch one of my favourite horror movies.

I am, of course, talking about the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”. Surprisingly though, I’ve only seen a few clips of the 1950s film that this movie is based on (the only William Castle film I’ve actually seen is “The Tingler”. In fact, I saw it at the cinema.. but that’s a different story).

Although I first encountered this terrifying, but somewhat overlooked, modern horror classic on late-night TV when I was about fourteen or fifteen (and got a DVD of it a few years later), it has been way too long since I last watched it.

So, without any further ado, let’s visit… the House on Haunted Hill! Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS and CREEPY IMAGERY. Likewise, I should probably warn you that the film itself contains some FLICKERING/ STROBING EFFECTS. (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems or not)

“House On Haunted Hill” begins in 1931 at the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For The Criminally Insane. It’s a fairly ordinary evening – the orderlies are doing their rounds and keeping their records up to date, whilst Dr.Vannacutt performs cruel experimental surgery on one of the patients. However, his malevolent dissections are interrupted by a violent riot.

Egads! A cacophony! I fear that there may also be a scuffle too! Nurse, fetch me my duelling sabre!

In the ensuing chaos, the institute almost burns to the ground – with very few survivors managing to escape.

And, yes, there’s even an old-fashioned newsreel about it! This film is awesome!

Flash forward to the late 1990s and debonair theme park owner Steven Price is showing off his latest attraction, “Terror Incognita”, to the press.

However, his thrilling premiere is interrupted by a phone call from his wife Evelyn who has just seen a segment on TV about the institute and wants to have her birthday soiree there. After an argument, he agrees to it, but decides to rewrite the guest list and make some theatrical alterations to the party to spite Evelyn.

And, yes, as his name suggests, Steven Price bears at least a passing resemblance to Vincent Price.

However, when the guests show up to the institute, Steven is shocked to see that they weren’t on his revised guest list. Evelyn doesn’t recognise the guests either. The guests are completely bewildered too. Still, the show must go on.

Given the institute’s horrific history, Steven has decided that he’ll add a bit of spice to the party by promising anyone who manages to stay the night there one million dollars. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh…. that’s what could go wrong.

One of the first things that I will say about “House On Haunted Hill” is that it is pretty much a perfect horror movie!

It is an absolutely brilliant mixture of knowing theatricality, vintage-style horror, late 1990s style gothic horror (think J.K.Potter, Cradle Of Filth album covers, Tim Burton, Marilyn Manson etc..), dark humour, creepy set design, psychological horror, suspense and gruesome horror. And, yes, it isn’t a movie for the easily shocked!

Even though this is one of those horror films that will scare you the most when you watch it for the first time, I was still surprised at how creepy this film remains after several viewings. Even when you know what to expect – the atmosphere, style and premise of the film will probably still subtly creep you out.

Seriously, even the opening credits are at least mildly disturbing…

And, yes, this film has style! I usually wait until near the end of a review to lavish praise on a film’s set design and lighting design – but, this film is often a visual masterpiece!

Not only is it filled with loads of really cool gloomy lighting, but the creepily mysterious institute (which is a chilling mixture of art deco architecture and something a bit more “Silent Hill“-like) is one of the things that really adds a lot of extra atmosphere to the film.

It’s a glowing coffin, filled with several smaller coffins!

Ah, I KNEW that hiring Gunther Von Hagens to do the interior design was a mistake!

I say it in all of these reviews, but people REALLY knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s!

Likewise, this stylishness also extends to the film’s dialogue, which contains some brilliantly witty and acerbic lines. Although this film is a scary one, it doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously either. There’s just enough cynical comedy to lull you into a false sense of security, so that the later parts of the film will be extra scary by contrast.

In addition to the film’s disturbing backstory, one thing that really helps to make this film more creepy and suspenseful is the fact that it’s basically a survival horror videogame in movie form.

If you’ve played games like the original “Resident Evil” or “Alone In The Dark“, you’ll know what I mean by this. Most of the film takes place inside a locked building, where the characters have to fend for themselves. Like an old-school survival horror game, the main focus of the film is on both exploring and trying to escape a dangerous environment.

You have entered the world of survival horror…

The scary setting of the film is also complimented by both the cast of characters and the writing. Both Steven and Evelyn are brilliantly theatrical and creepily unpredictable characters. The bitter and acrimonious relationship between them also provides equal amounts of dark comedy and chilling suspense too.

Seriously, this is far from the most menacing confrontation they have with each other…

As for the other characters, the institute’s nervous caretaker also helps to add a sense of paranoia to the film. Likewise, the mysterious guests are a mixture between ordinary and eccentric. Seriously, although this film doesn’t contain a gigantic amount of characterisation for some of the characters, both the acting and the characters really help to make this film what it is.

The film’s pacing is really good too, with the narrative remaining fairly focused throughout the film. Likewise, the film uses suspense expertly whilst never feeling too fast-paced or too slow-paced either. Best of all, the film tells a satisfyingly complete story within the space of just 89 minutes too!

In terms of the special effects, they still just about stand the test of time. Even the few CGI elements in the film are dark, subtle and/or mysterious enough to still look ok by modern standards.

For example, this scene involving an evil Poirot-like character uses a really cool oil painting style CGI effect that still looks really cool, even to this day.

Interestingly, although this film contains some very well-made gore effects, it isn’t really that much of a splatter film. Even in the grislier moments, this film often still aims more for “disturbingly creepy/grotesque” rather than “buckets of blood“.

Well, except for the scene featuring a literal bucket of blood, of course…

Musically, this film is superb! Not only does the film’s soundtrack contain the kind of gothic orchestral music that is reminiscent of vintage horror movies, but it also contains an absolutely amazing cover version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” performed by Marilyn Manson. This song plays twice during the film and, on both occasions, it adds instant atmosphere and drama.

All in all, “House On Haunted Hill” is an excellent horror film! The tone, style and atmosphere of it is an absolutely brilliant blend of old-school horror and late 1990s gothic horror.

Not only has it stood the test of time well, but it’s the kind of film that also still has the power to be creepy after repeated viewings. It’s a film that manages to be terrifyingly dramatic whilst not being “ultra-serious” either. It’s also (sort of) the cinematic equivalent of an old-school survival horror videogame too, with a strong focus on scary exploration and constant danger.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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Review: “Ghost In The Shell (2017 Remake)” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d review last year’s remake of “Ghost In The Shell” because – the day before I originally prepared the first draft of this review- I got a copy of it on DVD as a birthday present 🙂

Surprisingly though, I only really watched a remastered version of the original 1995 version of “Ghost In The Shell” back in 2016, when I was going through (another) cyberpunk phase. Needless to say, I was impressed enough to end up watching almost all of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” on DVD, as well as both the second and third anime movies. So, yes, I’m a fan of the franchise.

Needless to say, when I first heard that Hollywood was remaking the original film, I was somewhat sceptical. Although I was amazed to hear about 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk films being made again, my scepticism was further enhanced by the fact that the remake had a 12A/PG-13 certificate upon it’s release. I was worried that it would be some kind of simplified Hollywood remake that would miss the point of the original films. Of course, as soon as I started watching it, I realised that I was wrong about this.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Ghost In The Shell (2017)”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS for both the remake and the anime film that it is based on.

The UK DVD release also has a really cool-looking reflective sleeve too.

“Ghost In The Shell (2017)” is set in a future where cybernetic enhancement of humans is common. However, a government-funded company called Hanka Robotics wants to take this even further by transplanting a human brain into a cybernetic body. They try this technique out on an orphaned refugee called Mira who it is said has drowned. The transplant is a success.

A year later, Mira is a Major in the elite “Section 9” counter-terrorism unit. However, following a mission to prevent the assassination of the president of Hanka robotics, the Major comes into contact with a mysterious cyber-terrorist called Kuze whilst analysing one of the hacked robots from the crime scene. Needless to say, she begins to investigate…..

And, yes, this is slightly more of an action movie than a detective movie.

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t an exact remake of the original anime. Stylistically and narratively, it is very much it’s own thing.

But, this is hardly a bad thing. Although there are a few homages to scenes from the original anime, this film tells a somewhat different story – which is still just about within the traditions of the series (if anything, it’s probably a tiny bit closer to “Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence” and “Ghost In The Shell: Solid State Society” though).

For example, this scene is fairly close to the original anime, even if the film’s main story diverges somewhat.

In short, the film focuses a lot more on the Major and her history. An important theme in the film is whether our memories define who we are and, like in “Blade Runner“, there’s also a sub-plot about artificial memories too. Whilst this works as a homage to “Blade Runner” it is also in keeping with the themes of the original anime and also slightly topical in this age of fake news etc… too.

This focus on the Major also allows for much deeper characterisation than in the original anime. However, this comes at the expense of the characterisation of the other characters. Even so, we still get to – for example – learn why Batou has artificial eyes. But, the team-based storytelling that is so key to the original films and TV episodes is missing somewhat here. But, this allows the film to be a much more focused thriller in some ways though.

Yes, Togusa still has his Mateba revolver. Although there’s no explanation for it here, and we only see it for a couple of seconds.

Batou still has his pet beagle, although the beagle only appears in a couple of scenes.

Still, this focus works. In an age where Hollywood films can be bloated things that can drag on for two hours or more, the fact that this film has a relatively slender 103 minute running time (at least five minutes of which is taken up by the end credits) helps to keep it focused and compelling. Yes, the pace isn’t as “relaxed” as the average cyberpunk film – but it’s hardly an “action for the sake of action” film either.

And, yet, although this film contains more action than the original anime, it’s still very much in keeping with the tone of the series. Although this is an action movie, it isn’t a mindless superhero-style action movie. There’s still some philosophical and/or science fiction stuff going on within the film.

However, since the film is very much about the Major’s quest for self-understanding, the philosophical issues in the film aren’t explored in quite the depth that they could have been. Still, they’re still there, which is reassuring.

Yes, there’s actually some serious character-based drama here, rather than just a series of mindless gunfights.

However, one slight change between the Hollywood remake and the original film is that some of the main characters seem a little bit more vindictive. This mostly takes the form of several members of Section 9 occasionally summarily executing disarmed criminals/terrorists, rather than arresting them. Whilst this is no doubt meant to be a depiction of how dystopian the futuristic setting of the film is, it perhaps adds a little too much moral ambiguity to otherwise sympathetic characters. Especially since these scenes are often presented in a slightly “badass” kind of way.

When the film originally came out, there was some online controversy about the fact that the Major was being played by Scarlett Johansson (since, in the original anime, the Major is Japanese).

Whilst the idea of the Major’s cybernetic body looking significantly different to her brain is very much in keeping with the themes of the series (and the ending of the original anime film too), it still caused a lot of internet controversy in America and Europe (although it was apparently much less controversial in Japan).

But, controversies aside, the cast is a lot more international in this film than in the original anime. Plus, one cool thing about this film is that people realistically speak different languages (with subtitles for the audience and, presumably, translation software for the characters) rather than the typical Hollywood thing of everyone just speaking English.

Best of all, despite the “12” certificate, the film still thankfully manages to retain a fair amount of the grittiness and uncanny psychological horror that made the original films so good. The robots and robotic elements of the film all look suitably creepy and, although a lot of the action scenes are eerily bloodless, they still manage to be surprisingly intense too.

Despite the relative lack of blood, the fight scenes still seem appropriately impactful and dramatic.

Likewise, there’s still some creepy robot-related stuff here. Albeit not to the extent of, say, “Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence”

Plus, the film also still – sort of – manages to show how realistic robots have affected people’s attitudes towards nudity in the future too. In other words, it’s absolutely no big deal whatsoever. I’m kind of surprised how much of this the Hollywood remake managed to keep – albeit with a few slight “robotic body suit” changes in order to stay on the right side of the censors. But, even this works really well – since it ensures that the robot nudity is “functional” (rather than comedic or titillating), which is much more in keeping with the spirit of the original films.

In terms of set design, lighting design and costume design, this film is outstanding!

In addition to taking influence from the original anime, the set designs and lighting here also take a lot of influence from “Blade Runner” 🙂 Not only that, they’re also their own unique thing too – with brightly-coloured holograms and some truly outstanding lighting. Seriously, anyone who has seen some of the art I’ve posted here will know, “colourful cyberpunk” is my favourite type of cyberpunk 🙂

Seriously, this street looks really awesome 🙂

Seriously, this is both it’s own thing and a homage to “Blade Runner” 🙂

And, even the background characters here have a slight “Blade Runner” look (eg: the transparent jackets etc..)

In addition to this, the setting has a fairly Hong Kong-like “look”, in a similar way to the original film. Plus, whoever designed the sets obviously took some inspiration from Kowloon Walled City too.

As well as Kowloon Walled City, this also reminds me a little bit of an awesome film from 2012 called “Dredd” too.

Likewise, the costume design here is surprisingly good too. Not only does it take a bit of influence from “Blade Runner” (with regard to the background characters), but it also manages to be both “realistic” and “futuristic” at the same time.

For example, one of the most interesting costume designs in the film is probably the strange cagoule/trenchcoat/biker jacket hybrid that the Major wears at the beginning and end of the film. Seriously, it looks really cyberpunk in both an 1980s-style way and a modern way.

Seriously, this outfit manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time.

Plus, like in any good cyberpunk film, the background characters often look at least slightly futuristic too 🙂

In terms of the music, it’s reasonably good. However, the only truly stand-out musical moment in the film is the fact that a version of the background music from the awesome Hong Kong montage in the original anime (which, sadly, isn’t included in the remake) plays during the end credits.

Even though the awesome montage scene (aside from this brief visual reference) doesn’t appear in the remake, the music appears in the credits.

All in all, on it’s own merits, this is a really good cyberpunk movie. It looks really cool, there’s some good characterisation, there’s a bit of intellectual depth and the pacing is reasonable good too. Yes, it isn’t as good as the original anime – but, for a Hollywood remake, I’m genuinely surprised at how good it is 🙂 It’s kind of like “Ghost In The Shell lite”, but this probably still makes it better than many modern movies.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four.

Today’s Art (17th April 2018)

Woo hoo! It’s the 17th April and this means that it’s time to remake the same picture that I’ve remade every year since I decided to start practicing art daily. You can see previous versions of the picture here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017.

It’s strange to think that a silly little cartoon I drew six years ago about the well-known joke that pretty much anything will run “Doom” turned into such a major life-shaping moment for me.

And, in keeping with the theme, this year’s cartoon is a topical comic about how some really cool-looking modern “Doom II” WADs (especially those designed to use “GZ Doom”) have system requirements that are way too high! Seriously, the whole point of classic “Doom” is that it’s meant to be able to run on anything! It’s meant to be free from the exclusionary “must have the absolutely latest tech” BS that plagues modern triple-A gaming. But, well, I could ramble for ages about this. So, here’s the latest version of the picture. Enjoy 🙂

As usual, this digitally-edited painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“The Important Question (VII)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art ( 9th April 2018)

Well, once again, I was feeling uninspired. So, today’s digitally-edited painting is a remake of this old painting of mine from late 2014/ early 2015 that I’ve been meaning to remake for quite a while, since I was curious about what it would look like in my current style.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Trendy 90s Cafe (II)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (24th February 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Refracted”, a new mini series of several (probably six) self-contained comics. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found on this page (with the exception of the first two comics in the “2015” segment of the page). Previous comics in this mini series can be read here: Comic one, Comic two

Well, this comic was the product of both a brief moment of uninspiration and a brief moment of nostalgia. In other words, it’s a re-make of this old “Damania” comic from 2013 (inspired by a cheesy daytime TV show I was watching occasionally at the time, and during a phase where I experimented with digital art more).

Don’t worry, tomorrow’s comic will be an original comic though 🙂

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Refracted – Daytime TV (II)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (15th January 2018)

Well, I was feeling slightly uninspired – so, this digitally-edited painting is a modern remake of a drawing that I originally made in 2010. Whilst I still have a copy of the original drawing somewhere, my scan of the full image got lost in a computer crash I had that year. For some reason, I only bothered recovering a detail from the picture I’d posted to DeviantART. And this is what I remade.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Detail – Violinist (II)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (17th December 2017)

Today’s digitally-edited painting is a re-make of an old painting of mine from 2015. This was mostly because whilst finding this old painting to use as an example for this article from November, I suddenly realised “This painting doesn’t look anywhere near as good as I remember!“. So, I thought that I’d make a higher-quality new version.

Interestingly, there ended up being quite a few changes between the two versions. The old version of the painting was heavily inspired by both “Blade Runner” and a retro game called “Dark Forces” which I’d been playing at the time.

But, when I returned to this picture, I used my current approach to lighting, colours etc.. which was heavily influenced by things that I’d found quite a while after making the old version of the painting (eg: these “Doom II” levels, “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, the original “System Shock“, “Technobabylon” etc..). Likewise, I know a few extra digital editing techniques that I didn’t really know when I made the old version of the painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Data Tower (II)" By C. A. Brown

“Data Tower (II)” By C. A. Brown