House on Haunted Hill (1959)

directed by william castle
william castle productions

The second horror feature from prolific B-movie factor-turned-producer Wm. Castle, this flick may well serve as the template for Scooby-Doo’s many eerie mysteries. It’s also a clear precursor of Clue. Not only is at least one line lifted nearly verbatim nearly 30 years later in that farce, the House in question harbors secret passages, guns and ropes, people who have “never met,” the whole nine yards. Vincent Price may not be quite as over-the-top as Tim Curry, but nobody else acts as poorly as Lee Ving, either, so call that a wash. Anyway, this film concerns a group of people who have to survive the night in a HAUNTED HOUSE for some sort of payoff, a now-familiar setup. Released the same year as the publication of the Shirley Jackson story “The Haunting of Hill House,” House on Haunted Hill predated The Haunting – which was based on the story – by four years, which isn’t confusing at all. Truth be told, this picture was a lot better than I expected it to be, even with its red … herrings and some impossibly goofy scenarios and characters. It holds a few legitimate frights, too, and more than enough implausible moments to satisfy anybody.

looks a bit different than in the poster, this house

why did i watch this movie?

I was informed I had to make up for the Vincent Price gap in my viewing, and I’ve been intrigued by Castle’s huckstering since reading S. King’s Danse Macabre in, like, 1983. PLUS, it’s a song by the Didjits from their worst album.

should you watch this movie?

At 75 minutes, it won’t take up much of your time – and you can watch the whole shebang on its Wikipedia page.

highlight and low point

The basement of the house contains an easily accessible pit filled with acid – perfect for dissolving bodies – which seems farfetched.

rating from outer space: b−

Cell (2016)

directed by tod williams
the genre company/benaroya pictures

When the novel upon which this film is based was first published, I was in one of my periodic phases where I was not interested in reading any more goddamn Stephen King novels, besides which I thought it sounded pretty stupid, given that it seemed a little late to be ruminating on mobile phones. (And paradoxically proved to have been early enough to make a more prescient statement than it did!) Then a similarly King-obsessed friend managed to goad me into catching up on his more recent works – Under the Dome and Duma Key, in case you’re wondering – and I was screwed. Cell the novel is not of the more admirable S. King, and neither is this adaptation worthwhile, despite – or because of – the author’s work on the screenplay. John Cusack takes the lead role, Sam Jackson shows up for a paycheck, and the ending is completely different from the book’s, and appalling. It’s also one of the movie’s only effective scenes, and made me wonder yet again why the best-selling author seemingly doesn’t have an editor. Or at least one who can talk him out of his poorer ideas.

why did i watch this movie?

I couldn’t help myself, the way it’s difficult not to look at the burning auto wreck as you drive past it.

should you watch this movie?

I bet it would be good for spurring a healthy debate about how or why actors appear in certain roles and/or movies.

highlight and low point

This flick feels really lazy, as though nobody in it or involved with it really gave much of a tin shit. So the ending stands out – because although it’s also lousy, for those familiar with the source text it’s at least pretty jarring.

rating from outer space: d

IT (2017)

directed by andy muschietti
new line cinema

I … have read over 60 Stephen King books – which is to say, most of them. IT is one of my favorites, so I am perhaps biased in my abjuration of this werewolf picture. But what makes the book work is the relationships of the “Losers’ Club” kids – with each other, and with the adult world – and we get almost no sense of that in this retelling. Instead, we’ve got a bunch of kids who decide to hang out together for some reason and, moreover, to confront the hideous monster killing children in their town. Their enemies, meanwhile, are even less well-drawn, so further impetus for much of the action is lost. The climactic scenes inside the monster’s lair are well-envisioned, and a few of the individual vignettes are effective. But the best scene was spoiled by being included in the trailer, and I feel like a sucker for having bought into it. I’m still gonna see Part II, of course.

why did i watch this movie?

The trailer made it look as though someone finally had figured out how to film an S. King adaptation effectively – especially the concept of splitting it into two halves.

should you watch this movie?

‘Twas a runaway smash hit, and continues to receive overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth, so what do I know.

highlight and low point

The foreign screener I watched rendered the title, literally, as “The.” Besides that, the film did a good job of ratcheting up the tension until the Losers’ decision to enter the sewers in search of their evil quarry. Again, however, the depictions of the kids had little depth, and a few of the alterations and additions to their exploits and backstories were peculiar, to say the least.

rating from outer space: C