House on Haunted Hill (1999)

In 1999, movie producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis started up Dark Castle Entertainment, a production company (initially) intended to remake the ’50s and ’60s horror films of William Castle. Their first Castle remake was House on Haunted Hill. It didn’t fare too well at the box office, at least in comparison to Jan de Bont’s The Haunting, 1999’s other haunted house flick, which beat it to theaters and subsequently left a rancid taste in people’s mouths. House on Haunted Hill, however, is the superior movie. It’s trash, for sure, but entertaining trash. Geoffrey Rush hams it up, channeling Vincent Price by way of James Woods, and he practically makes the movie. The rest of the cast is filled out by a young Taye Diggs and a pre-X-Men Famke Janssen, with Peter Gallagher and Ali Larter in the mix as well. Perhaps most randomly, SNL‘s Chris Kattan shows up as the neurotic young owner who inherited the “house”, and perhaps most amazingly, he’s not entirely annoying. The most pleasant surprise about this movie is that it actually manages to be pretty creepy on occasion. The best parts (aside from practically any scene with Rush) involve the ghosts of the sanitarium’s lunatic doctor and his staff fucking up people’s party plans, and some of the eerie visual effects take a cue from Jacob’s Ladder. However like so many other horror titles that build up a considerable amount of the viewer’s good will, it all turns to shit in the end, collapsing in spectacular fashion as the “evil” manifests itself as a giant CGI shit-cloud that looks created by fucking MS Paint. It’s not quite enough to ruin the good time that came before it, but it’s close.  3/5

  • Take a drink every time Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen hurl sarcastic insults at each other.

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

I guess since the Last House on the Left remake faired moderately well, remaking this one was a foregone conclusion, though its unrated release kept it to maybe a dozen theaters nationwide. The best I can say about this one is that it’s at least competently shot, compared to the gritty, handheld and barely-watchable style of the original. Otherwise you pretty much know what you’re getting into: young woman travels to a secluded cabin to write a book, gets terrorized and raped by several nasty locals, then after a death-defying escape, comes back to hunt and kill them. Only in this post-Saw horror environment, our new heroine prefers elaborate, Jigsaw-style deaths for just about everybody, logic and suspension of disbelief be damned. Once again there’s no explanation as to how she survives – at one point it’s implied that she’s been living off the land, but where did she manage to shower and shop at a Banana Republic? I would also like to know how she learned to fish and rig all of her deadly traps, without ever being seen by the redneck brutes combing the area for her body. Rambo’s got nothing on this chick.  1.5/5

  • Drink every time someone says the word “horse.” Better make it shots.

Ghostbusters is my favorite movie – that rare flick you loved as a kid, but instead of outgrowing it, found more to like about it as you grew up. That’s thanks in no small part to the comedy, which stays rich long after the wonder of the special effects wears off, and I’ve found myself “getting” more and more of the jokes as I got older. The movie is also the rare – or possibly only – exception to the rule that comedies with big budgets and special effects never work; it manages to maintain that loose, early-Saturday Night Live ragtag vibe amongst the characters, even when the script calls for technobabble and big effects (a balancing act the sequel couldn’t quite pull off). It’s also beautifully shot, with effects work that remarkably still holds up today. And seeing it on the big screen last week was a blast (it’s playing at 500 AMC locations, every Thursday this October), especially since its original theatrical run didn’t include a stop inside my mother’s womb. Just hearing those proton packs fire up in a theater had me smiling like Courtney Love in a meth lab.  5/5

  • Take a shot every time Louis gets locked out of his apartment.

Boogeyman is a pretty excellent example of completely wasted potential. It starts off decent enough, with a little scene depicting a kid watching his father get sucked into the closet, presumably by the pesky fucker of the title. Fast forward 15 years, and the kid is now a total pussy who’s afraid of closets (is this a gay subtext?) and fittingly, he’s played by a guy from 7th Heaven. There’s a quick inspired bit where you see the inside of his apartment, stripped of closet and cabinet doors, and even the refrigerator door is see-through. Unfortunately it’s the last time this movie even flirts with being enjoyable. The guy’s mom croaks, sending him back home where he reconnects with his uncle and a childhood friend, and of course his old rickety house with its many closets. For some reason, this movie spends a whole lot of time trying to be a psychological thriller – you’re made to question whether this guy is just a nutcase having visions, even though it’s pretty fucking clear the Boogeyman exists. Every would-be “scare” in this movie is manufactured by way of manic editing and loud obnoxious music stings, and by halfway through it practically becomes a parody of itself. The (brief) climax is just a CGI shit show, and the Boogeyman looks like a fucking trainwreck. How could they do this to THE Boogeyman? Like I said, wasted potential. Anyway, after his girlfriend and uncle are “taken” by Ol’ Boogey, our testosterone-deprived hero defeats him by overcoming his fear and – get this – smashing his old toys with a baseball bat. Then he walks toward his bedroom window while sunlight pours through and anthemic U2-ripoff music starts to play, even though this guy will most likely be arrested in connection with the disappearance of his girlfriend and uncle, and is therefore thoroughly fucked. Just like anyone who chooses to watch this movie.  1/5

  • Have a drink every time our protagonist stares at a closet door.

Stephen King’s It fares pretty well for a King adaptation. It’s a bit long-winded (clocking in at over three hours), but the story plays to King’s strengths, about a group of friends banding together to face a sewer-dwelling monster, that for some reason takes on the form of an evil clown. Literally the first half of this thing is spent introducing the characters, mainly through a series of flashbacks that show how they met and defeated the monster for the first time. When “It” resurfaces 30 years later, they must reconvene and try to kill him for good. The second half is basically The Big Chill with a killer clown, and it suffers in comparison to the first, not least of all because these “grown” adults are more annoying and hopeless than their childhood counterparts were.I don’t argue for remaking something too often, but It could potentially benefit from a theatrical makeover. The basic story is great, Tim Curry is suitably creepy as the clown, and the child actors (including a young Seth Green and Jonathan Brandis) are surprisingly solid, but the made-for-TV vibe and some cheesy monster effects take some of the wind out of it. And like a lot of King novels-turned-miniseries, it doesn’t need to be as long as it is.  3/5

  • Take a drink whenever It says “float,” or when you see balloons (prepare to get fairly smashed).

Friday the 13th: Part 2 is one of my favorites of the series, for several reasons. For starters, it’s virtually free of gimmicks; it’s not in bad 3D (Part 3), it doesn’t exist under the promise of killing Jason off (The Final Chapter), or have him battle a girl with psychic powers (The New Blood), board a cruise ship (Jason Takes Manhattan), go to outer space (Jason X), etc.. No, it’s just a plain old-fashioned Friday movie, with Jason (making his first non-cameo appearance, taking over for his mother from the first one) running around and killing some camp counselors. Yes, I said running – some people only seem to remember Jason as a slow-walking behemoth, but that was only in the later entries. This movie’s also surprisingly well-shot; director Steve Miner is one of the only Friday directors who would go on to a semi-successful career. Finally, unlike the many entries that would come after, Part 2 actually has sympathetic characters you can root for. There’s a handful of counselors here who clearly don’t deserve their grisly deaths, whereas in future entries the characters are so annoying and stereotypical you can’t wait for Jason to kill them. It’s fun to root for Jason, but unfortunately for the series that also meant the other characters would become more and more faceless and interchangeable, and suddenly the enjoyment of each movie lies squarely on the deaths (which in turn became more and more outlandish and ridiculous).  4/5

  • Pound one down whenever someone says Jason’s name, or whenever you hear the famous “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-“ sounds.

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