FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 21, 2009

Day 20: "You'll grow to like it here."

Man, I shoulda reviewed Haunting of Winchester House last night right after I watched it, rather than waiting 24 hours. While it was playing, I was kind of...into it, or at least feeling generous enough to pretend I was into it. There I was, aware of all its faults (and oh, there are plenty), yet thinking that there was finally a film from The Asylum that was actually successful. Now, picking out screencaps and going back over the whole thing, I have to wonder if I was, in fact, wasted last night. Perhaps someone snuck into my house and laced my Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice Holiday Tea (LIFE ON THE EDGE) with PCP or something. I suppose it's possible. Therefore, I'm going to suggest that if you're going to give Winchester House a go, you consider taking PCP to enhance your experience. Wait, that's probably an irresponsible thing to put out there on The Internet...ah! You should consider drinking Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice Holiday Tea before watching this movie. Hugs not drugs and all that.

Haunting of Winchester House opens with one of the most horrendous CGI shots I've seen in a while. It's a little difficult to make out here, but trust me- it's an "epic" sweeping establishing shot that starts out looking like a plastic diorama but ends with shoddy computermanship: the back end of the box truck is warped out of perspective, and I don't even know what's going on in the sky.

Ah, The Asylum.

Anyway, we learn in a prologue that the house is haunted when some broad's chalk circle and cries of "You are not welcome here!" don't prevent her from getting bitch slapped by some malevolent force. Later, a family rents the property; they receive their keys in the mail, and we never do learn who currently owns the mansion. Oh well.

The large house is still obviously made out of computer. In the few shots where characters have to interact with the exterior in some way, such as going through the front door, the shots are framed so tightly that you can't tell what the structure really looks like. This would be a clever way around budgetary restraints if only the long shots didn't look so damn fake and the trickery wasn't so obvious.

The eeeevil spirits residing within soon make themselves known, and they don't waste any time in kidnapping the daughter of the family. It's up to mom and dad to figure out what's going on and to find her; luckily for them, a paranormal investigator likes to hang out on the property and he offers to lend a hand with their problem. He explains the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 poltergeists, and why some spirits are mean...he's like Tangina, but he's a regular-sized black dude. He wields a blessed implement as he busts ghosts- I realize it's just a plumb bob, but I preferred pretending it was a giant pewter tampon (what was in my tea last night?).

During their quest to find their daughter, the couple learns a bit about the history of the house via that ol' cinematic chestnut, The Newspaper Clippings Tucked Away in Boxes- the proprietress was Sarah Winchester, inheritor of the Winchester rifle estate and prime kookadook and WAITAMINNIT. This was the point when I realized that yes, the filmmakers intended for us to think that this movie was taking place in THE Winchester Mansion. Here's a little history lesson for those of you who are unfamiliar with the story:

Sarah Winchester married into the family that created the famous Winchester Rifle. Her grief over the deaths of her only child and her husband caused her to seek the services of a spiritualist, who told her that the family was indeed cursed by the spirits of those killed by firearms manufactured by Winchester Arms. She was told to build a new house for herself and the spirits...and to never stop building it. So, 24/7/365 for the next forty years, she spent her sizable fortune adding onto a farmhouse until the structure became a twisted, hulking thing- what's known today as the "Winchester Mystery House". The construction was done at Sarah's whim without the aid of architectural plans; in order to trick and elude the angry spirits, the house became a puzzle with stairways to nowhere, doors opening into walls, and windows between rooms. The number 13 is woven throughout the building, whether it be 13 circles in a stained glass window, or the 13 bathrooms or what have you. It's a fascinating place and a fascinating story, and it seems ripe for the cinematic picking.

The title of this movie didn't click in my head because...well, this is the Winchester Mansion, as it stands today:

A little different than the CGI monstrosity up above. None of the enigmas of the mansion's interior- those creepy staircases and doors, for example- are in the film (in fact, all the action takes place in one of three rooms or a single hallway). I suppose it's got to do, once again, with budget constraints. Maybe there's some legal issues and the actual house couldn't be recreated even with pixels. I have no idea...but if that's case, then why use the real story? Why not call this movie Haunting of Shminchester House so all the inaccuracies don't affront my precious brain cells? Or am I just being too picky? It's a famous real place and real story, though...I mean, it wouldn't be very smart of me to make a movie about how Jimmy Carter was haunted by the ghosts of peanuts past or some shit while he was President, and then when I show him at the White House it looks like this:

On second thought, that may be the smartest thing I could ever do with my life, ever.

Historical inaccuracies aside, how did Winchester House add up in my cold, sober post-Celestial Seasonings eyes? Mehhhh. It probably is the best thing to come out of The Asylum, but that's not exactly a ringing endorsement- although I have noted my perverse love for Asylum flicks before. Writer/director Mark Atkins wisely keeps the spirits in the dark as much as possible; in fact, about 4/5 of this film takes place in the dark. That's good, 'cause when it's bright enough, you can see things like, oh, obvious latex applications and the such.

Come on, no one saw that huge line and took the time to fix it?

There's a few instances of WTF? when footage is sped up for no reason, and the acting and dialogue are par for the course terrible. There's some successful sound design, I'll say that, and a few sequences are genuinely creepy. Still, the dark figure walking quickly through the frame jump scare is used about 14 times, which is 13 and a half times too many. The score, while dark carnival-appropriate, is too overpowering by the end of the movie. The music just. Never. Stops. Why are some filmmakers so afraid of silence? Turn off the music and the scenes with people walking around in the dark will be at least 65% scarier, and that's a scientific fact I just made up.

I still would have said all these things last night, even with my tea goggles on...I would have ended it all, however, with a "But it was surprisingly good!". Today, I'll end this with a "But it was surprisingly not terrible!"...although I fear it may have actually been terrible. Or maybe not. I can't tell anymore.

By the way, the DVD features a 3D version of the film as well, although I don't think there was anything spectacular in the movie that would really benefit from having an extra dimension. Then again, can't everything benefit from having an extra dimension?


Anonymous said...

I've had this sitting around...but not had the courage to watch it as soon as I realized it was from the Asylum.

Bill Walsh said...

Ok, if you put CGI Miss Lillian and Billy on the porch dressed like the Beverly Hillbillies, I will concede you are the greatest artist of this and all time and dedicate my life to serving your whims.

Alec Pridgen said...

I may get this at some point for one reason: I have actually toured the Winchester House. I have a bullet key chain from there.

Even so, it still looks terrible.

Koompa said...

What makes me angry about seeing those pics of the CGified Winchester mansion is that I know computer graphics students who could crank out special effects a million times better and cheaper than those hacks working for most low budget movie studios. But perhaps I'm being a bit elitist...

Sitting Duck said...

I don't particularly care for Gingerbread Spice. You think maybe Cranberry Apple Zinger will have a similar effect?

Stacie Ponder said...

Koompa, you're not being elitist at all. I realize that the film was low budget, but it couldn't have been, like, Stacie Ponder low budget. They could have used better graphics than THAT.

Sitting Duck, I'm sure anything that's got the word "zinger" in it would work just fine!