In the late 90s and early 2000s, mainstream American horror was at its absolute lowest point. Whether it was terribly uninspired Scream ripoffs like I Know What You Did Last Summer or The Rage: Carrie 2, 80s Franchise Horror hanger-ons like Jason X and Halloween: Resurrection, or the introduction of an awful new genre – torture porn – with the overrated and never good franchises of Saw and Hostel.
Sure, we’d occasionally get something like Gore Verbinski‘s imaginative re-imagining of Hideo Nakata‘s Ring, but 99% of the best horror came from other countries – Let the Right One In (Sweden), Thirst (South Korea), The Devil’s Backbone (Mexico), Lake Mungo (Australia).
Of all the trash, some of the most ridiculous and instantly dated movies were the Dark Castle releases. Dark Castle was a production company that sought to remake old William Castle/Vincent Price horror films with a cynical 90s twist. Founded by Tales from the Crypt daddies Robert Zemeckis, Gilbert Adler and Joel Silver in 1998, the company’s first film was 1999’s House on Haunted Hill, a remake of the old and legitimately scary 1959 Vincent Price film of the same name. Next came a remake of Thirteen Ghosts, dopely retitled Thir13en Ghosts, and at that point, Dark Castle figured they better make up their own stories so in came the original Ghost Ship, ironically the least unique film of the three. It was followed by the more prestige-looking but crushingly boring Gothika.
At that point, they revisited the remake angle and brought back the old Vincent Price movie, House of Wax. But how do you make an old 60s movie about wax sculptures scary for the mid-2000s audience? Cast Paris Hilton of course, the unnatural way she delivers lines is downright eerie. After that, they went back to original content with the abysmal Hilary Swank-led satanic panic horror The Reaping and the surprisingly not terrible Omen knock-off, Orphan. Unfortunately, we only had time to watch the first six movies of Dark Castle’s output, so we went with the terrible one.
Dark Castle Entertainment still exists today, making smaller but just as awful movies from Suburbicon to The Apparition. Let’s start this article with their debut film, House on Haunted Hill.
House on Haunted Hill
directed by: William Malone ; written by: Dick Beebe & Robb White
cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Jeffrey Combs, Max Perlich, Lisa Loeb, James Marsters
running time: 93 minutes
release date: October 29, 1999
other horror movies releases Fall ’99: Sleepy Hollow, End of Days, Stir of Echoes, Stigmata, Bats, Children of the Corn 666: Issac’s Return, Retro Puppet Master
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
I first saw this movie in theaters on opening night with my parents. I was ten years old and I remember it explicitly – reading a four-star review in the Arizona Republic (by some local idiot, probably Kari Lake) over morning French Toast sticks, before going to school and hearing my dad rave about how amazing the Vincent Price original was during the drive. I remember going to AMC Deer Valley 30 (when it actually had 30 theaters) and my parents having to park all the way over near the Baja Fresh because it was Friday night and Glendale was popping off. I remember arriving there 45 minutes before the movie even started (an absolute necessity for my dad) to an empty theater, so we could have first pick of our seats (this was pre-pre-assigned seating, folks). Most importantly, I remember all three of us, my dad, my mom, and myself, absolutely loving this movie and having the goddamn time of our lives with all the quick cuts and dumb music cues. The following month my mom filed for divorce.
The good times came to a screeching halt. My parents were terribly unhappy but I couldn’t even tell. I thought we were all having a wonderful time. In a nutshell, that’s exactly how I look back at this god-awful 90s remake of House on Haunted Hill. In the theater, it was a blast for little ten-year-old me, all the jumps, all the scares, all the terribly unfunny jokes, all the times they played Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”. Now I look back and see something painfully generic, both in its story structure and its “trying to be edgy” lighting/cinematography look. All the twists and turns can be seen from a mile away, the characters are overly cynical but in a mundane way, so not only do you not like any of them, you aren’t remotely interested in what happens to them. The effects, once terrifying to ten-year-old me, are cheesy and caught between that soon-to-be-famous dark but energetic Dark Castle aesthetic and visual nods to the 40s/50s Vincent Price/William Castle era from which both this and the next movie on our list, Thir13en Ghosts, are remakes of. It’s a fucking mess and on top of everything, it constantly drags. It may only be 93 minutes but it feels like 132.
The plot is very similar to the original – an eccentric millionaire creeper, Steven Price (Oscar Winner Geoffrey Rush -really failing at an East Coast accent) throws a birthday bash for his equally shitty wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen – when she was big) at a famously haunted house – in this version, a former mental institution where a Dr. Goebells-inspired mad man, Dr. Vonnegut (Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs), tortured and killed his patients. The actual haunted house, which does not have WiFi, hacks into Steven’s mac book and changes the guest list to a bunch of random assholes. So who are these assholes? There’s a wildly misogynistic rendering of a once-famous TV personality, Melissa (Billy Madison‘s Bridgette Wilson), who loudly declares her plan to fuck her way back into the entertainment industry. There’s Jennifer Jenzen (Final Destination‘s Ali Larter), a mousy executive assistant, Eddie Baker (RENT‘s Taye Diggs) a former pro-baseball player who knows how to use a gun, and finally, Dr. Blackburn (The O.C.‘s Peter Gallagher), a racist surgeon. They are all led to the property by the caretaker, Corky Romano (SNL‘s Chris Kattan), who deeply and rightfully fears the house. Steven Price promises all of these guests $1 Million each if they survive the night. If they don’t survive the night, the remaining checks will be split amongst the living. The guests ponder this for a while, but after the house locks them in, they have no choice but to wander the dark corridors either bickering or getting murdered for 93 agonizing minutes.
The dialogue is maybe the worst thing about this, even worse than the music video aesthetic I was just ranting about. Everyone’s lines are heavy-handed, obnoxious, and not even remotely funny. The big floating ghost creature that houses the evil Dr. Vonnegut has some really stupid medical one-liners like “Next patient, please” before murdering someone. Dr. Blackburn refers to Eddie as “Puff Eddie”, simply because he’s black and Corky Romano reacts to discovering a dead woman’s body by saying “Jesus, she’s dead. She was cute too. I really need to get laid before I die.” The acting is a mixed bag, with mostly everyone delivering a somewhat credible performance besides the typically awful Ali Larter and the typically Oscar-caliber Geoffrey Rush. Chris Kattan tries his best but nothing he’s given to say is funny, still, he’s a convincing dip shit I guess? There’s one good scare to be had though. Melissa, the washed-up TV star, is wandering the basement with a camcorder and discovers something being caught by the camera that doesn’t appear to be happening IRL. It still gives me a little chill when I watch it.
I’ve reached a verdict. I find House on Haunted Hill guilty for inciting my parents’ divorce. Danny, what did you think?
Although my parents’ divorce six years prior was prompted by the 1993 film Cliffhanger, I had an eerily similar experience to you, Mike.
Much like Woodstock ‘99, the House on Haunted Hill remake is loud, unnecessary, and by the end of it you feel like you’ve been assaulted in a porta-potty by Marilyn Manson. You’ve already described the plot very well, so there’s really no need to rehash that, though I do want to point out the amusement park scene briefly. Watch it here if you must.
I knew we were in for an awful time when the opening scene has Lisa Loeb and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer thinking they were going to die in a roller coaster accident. Geoffrey Rush’s whole ‘master illusionist’ character seems expensive to maintain, considering how he destroys an entire roller coaster car every ride. Are there people below the ride that could get hurt? Wouldn’t you notice that the car ahead of you is only filled with lifeless dummies? After seeing this happen literally once while in line, you’d know it was coming and the scare would cease to be a surprise? Am I losing my mind?
The movie thinks it’s smarter and funnier than it actually is and while it’s only an hour and a half, it feels roughly 4 times that length. House on Haunted Hill takes all the charm from the original cheesy Vincent Price classic and strips the fun out of it. Speaking of houses, is it a haunted house or a haunted asylum? Why does the place have working utilities, clean counters and an entire open bar, but then down the hall is the scary unkempt asylum? Make up your mind!
The writers absolutely knew that the film would be very boring if everyone agreed to hang around the bar until sunrise and collect their money, so they needed them to create tension by wandering the halls of this unknown tetanus-filled abandoned hospital. Thir13en Ghosts does the same stupid shit but worse, with all the characters using Scooby-Doo logic and splitting up so that way they can get killed by stupid-looking monsters. I hate it.
Every character is boring, cliched, racist and/or sexist, with the exception of Geoffrey Rush, who is the only one aware of the type of shitty donkey turd movie he’s in. His performance as the mustache-twirling showman millionaire is at least entertaining. But the plot is so confusing, his performance gets lost in it. There are so many twists and turns and double-crosses and fake-out deaths and blah blah blah. Who cares?
The movie is too long and makes you feel uncomfortable; a real JNCO of a film. Like most things from the late 90’s, it should be left as a sad relic of a more socially awkward time in your life and not revisited. It’s the fifth-grade yearbook picture you don’t want your girlfriend to find because she’ll make fun of your bleached tips and puka shell necklace, then she’ll break up with you. Not recommended.
directed by: Steve Beck ; written by: Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio and Robb White
cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidth, Matthew Lilliard, Rah Digga, Alec Roberts, J.R. Bourne
running time: 91 minutes
release date: October 26, 2001
other horror movies released Fall ’01: Joy Ride, From Hell, Donnie Darko, Bones, Mimic 2, The Glass House, Do You Wanna Know a Secret?, Soul Survivors, Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates, Glitter
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
The early 2000’s were a more understanding time, where we as an audience were perfectly content with shoehorning numbers into film titles. We saw it with Lucky Number S7even, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and The Pi4nist. And keeping with that tradition was THIR13EN GHOSTS, a terribly stupid movie that is somehow stupider than I remember.
This was a film I saw as a kid and was in constant rotation on the USA network. Similar to House on Haunted Hill, the film does everything it can to let you know this isn’t your grandpa’s scary movie. It has loud nu-metal music, disorienting fast-paced editing and a kid riding a scooter around a haunted house. Fuck your tricycle, Kubrick. What The Shining needed was Danny tail-whipping on a Razor scooter and then grinding down a rail in some Soaps shoes.
Another similarity to House of Haunted Hill is the plot being convoluted and not making any sense. Basically, a crazy old billionaire Satanist, played by F. Murray Abraham, builds a weird house in a haunted junkyard that will imprison a bunch of goofy, cliched ghosts that he needs to use for some sort of demonic ritual. It’s not entirely clear the intent or motivations, so I guess it’s not really important! It’s all just an excuse to get the characters to wander around a house that has shifting rooms and have demons that sometimes want to chase you and kill you, depending on if they feel like it.
The main character is recently widowed Tony Shalhoub, played by Monk, who is inheriting his recently deceased uncle’s (Murray) gaudy death mansion. Along with Monk is his inexplicably young son, daughter Shannon Elizabeth fresh off the sexual assault-fest known as American Pie, and their housekeeper played by Rah Digga. They make it clear earlier in the film that they are poor and living in a small, cramped apartment yet they still have a minority to do their chores. You expect Shannon Elizabeth to help her struggling family clean and cook… get real, she’s hot!
A shady lawyer coerces them to visit the house for the first time in the middle of a black out storm at night time. The maintenance man there is Matthew Lillard, who I am just going to address as Shaggy. He basically weasels his way in to try to stop the ritual from happening because he is a psychic who has intense visions triggered by the trapped ghosts. He also helped construct the ghost prison, which he feels guilty about. The Necronomicon is literally sketched into the glass walls of the house, but nobody seems to care.
The only way to see the roaming spirits is to put on some safety glasses the film crew stole from local Ace Hardware. All the ghosts look like rejected ideas from a Hellraiser direct-to-DVD sequel. The family gets trapped, the ghouls run amok and it’s up to Shaggy and Monk to save the day!
Every time Shaggy gets a vision, the editing is so obnoxious, I had to avert my eyes from the screen. Everyone gets separated, of course, and Shaggy ends up sacrificing himself to save the family. The evil uncle shows up again, revealing he was alive the whole time, and intends to use his nephew and family as a sacrifice. He plays a satanic ritual over the sound system, but then Rah Digga starts disc-jockeying the soundboard, thwarting the evil ceremony because this movie is racist. All the ghosts revolt and tear the uncle apart before roaming off into the woods, Shaggy included.
I hated this film, it was worse than I remember. I can’t really say there’s anything redeeming about it other than the naked lady ghost and her lackluster boob-job. What’s your opinion, Mike? I know you liked the nude lady ghost.
I’m more of an elbow guy versus a boob guy, but I remember seeing this in theaters with my dad and the only thing he talked about for a week was that ghosts’ bad boob job. “The doctor massacred her!” he said, “And I know a thing or two about quality tit jobs, and that ain’t it!” I’m sure you do, Dr. Dad. As for the rest of the movie, it’s terrible and forgettable and dumb and the acting is bullshit and there’s really no logic. I guess you could say that I’m not a huge fan of Thir13en Ghosts, but I have to admit, for as stupid as it is, it’s not the worst movie Dark Castle has made.
First of all, I hate how unkind this bastard of an industry has been to F. Murray Abraham. He’s one of the most talented working character actors who won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal as Salieri in the incredible Amadeus, my favorite film of all time. You constantly see him in bullshit though and this is really just the icing on the cake. He plays this rich evil man obsessed with ghosts and the devil. He’s using an incredibly dumb Matthew Lillard to help him catch ghosts so he can build this Satan machine that sexually assaults the planet. He dies and his sad relatives led by four-time Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub and two-time MTV Movie Award winner Shannon Elizabeth inherit the house. But the house is actually the Satan machine!!!! Booooooo!
First of all, the film editing style in this is so painfully 90s it’s gross. The ghost design is incredibly derivative of Hellraiser but lacks the detail and definition of that movie’s cenobites. You’re right, Danny. The dwarf mom/fat baby and limping torso ghosts are so incredibly ineffective and exist merely to look strange and off-putting. The little white boy in the Native American costume, with the arrow through his head, is more tragic than scary, but less tragic when you think about how that little Nazi fuck is appropriating Native American culture. The giant slave ghost with the railroad spikes through his head is goofy-looking while reminding us all about slavery, which is a bummer and simply too heavy for a movie with numbers substituting letters in the title. The boob job woman is uncomfortable to look at, just ask my dad, and the 1950s teenager in the letterman jacket with the baseball bat and half his face missing is super lackluster. The Jackal is the only legitimately spooky ghost, with the straight jacket and broken cage around her head, but the one we’re all supposed to be afraid of is this giant Icelandic-looking white dude named The Juggernaut. It’s like…WHY?! This guy is just tall. He sucks.
There’s really not much I can touch on you haven’t already touched on, Danny. This is 100% a product of a very scary time in mainstream horror. A lazily edited, cheaply put-together shit show that looks more like a music video than a film.
Also, I’m a huge fan of The Pi4nist. It’s one of Roman Polanski’s best action movies.
directed by: Steve Beck ; written by: Mark Hanlon & John Pogue
cast: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Isiah Washington, Jr., Desmond Harrington, Emily Browning, Alex Dimitriades, Karl Urban, Francesca Rettondini
running time: 90 minutes
release date: October 25, 2002
other horror movies released Fall ’02: The Ring, Red Dragon, Swimfan, Carrie (TV Movie), Shark Attack 3, Hellraiser 6: Hellseeker
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
I’ve seen the opening to Ghost Ship around fifty times or so because, when I was twelve, I thought it was super dope. My dad bought the old-timey DVD from Costco (before Blu Ray ) and I’d just put it in and watch as hundreds of boat passengers got sliced in half by a flying wire. It was before YouTube, people, so don’t judge. I’d seldom watch the rest of the Ghost Ship, because I knew, even as a twelve-year-old, that it had some serious fucking pacing issues. It also has some serious bad CGI issues and some serious logic issues, but you wanna know something? It’s better than most of these Dark Castle movies, and that’s more frightening than the movie itself.
Ghost Ship follows a crew of salvagers led by the always good Gabriel Byrne. Working for him is Jake Webber (oops Ron Eldard, always get them confused), Isaiah Washington, Karl Urban, and the only woman of their crew, Julianna Margulies, who is the lead of the film. One day when drinking or something and talking about boats, a mysterious drifter (Wrong Turn‘s Desmond Harrington) approaches them about a lost cruise ship from the 1960s that has a kajillion dollars worth of gold bars on it. “We’re gonna be rich!” they exclaim and it’s full speed ahead to the middle of nowhere. They discover the ship, discover the gold, but weird stuff begins happening to them. Julianna Margulies spots a 12-year-old Emily Browning being all ghost girl and stuff, and the libido-forward Isaiah Washington begins seeing this gorgeous Latina singer who’s actually a ghooooooost. Gabriel Byrne starts having boring, drunken conversations with the captain of the ship whose also a ghoooooost.
I don’t know if there’s a more tame Dark Castle movie. Ghost Ship is so reserved you’re almost rooting for shitty jump scares. But then you start watching something like Thir13en Ghosts and you’re like, can we go back to Ghost Ship? The acting is superior in this one than any of the other Dark Castle movies with Julianna Margulies giving us the only lead actor you don’t hate. She’s better than Ali Larter, Tony Shalhoub, Halle Berry, Elisha Cuthbert and Hilary Swank in all of their respective roles. She’s…good. There I said it, someone actually gives a good performance in a Dark Castle movie. Ron Eldard is as fine as he usually is, Gabriel Byrne seems to just be there for a paycheck and Isaiah Washington is a very good actor despite being Isaiah Washington. The opening scene is still fun today, though much less fun than I remember (and shorter), the rest of the CGI and scares, in general, seem really phoned in. Then there’s the ending….
So it turns out the drifter that leads them to the ship was actually a passenger on the 1962 ship, who didn’t age at all. In a flashback we see him kill a bunch of people and mark their hands with his hands like a demon. Is he a demon? He says he works for someone who you think maybe is a demon? Maybe he’s like a demon working for another demon? Or maybe he’s working for Satan and he’s a demon? Or maybe he’s working for Jim Watkins and he’s Ron Watkins? I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody knows because the movie never explains. It feels like a sizeable bit of exposition was excised from the film because it makes absolutely no sense. He’s just bad and can’t age or die. That’s the thing, they kill him, but in the “gotcha” ending he’s alive and Julianna Margulies is watching him from the back of an ambulance, screaming “Hey, that guy! He’s the guy!” And no one hears or cares. The end. Danny, you recently had a Ghost Ship-themed wedding, right?
That’s right, Mike. We sprung for the Ghost Ship-themed ceremony. During the Cupid Shuffle, we cut everyone on the dance floor in half with a wire. You must have been in the bathroom during that part.
I have also seen the beginning of this film a number of times. I would rent the stupid tape from Blockbuster, watch the beginning opening segment, then turn it off because that was enough blood and gore for the day. I was a huge pussy.
Having now finally seen the film in its entirety, I do agree with you. It’s certainly in the upper echelon of the Dark Castle Entertainment horror films, which is like being the hottest person at your family reunion. That’s a very low standard and you really should be embarrassed for any pride you feel.
The first half of the film is relatively easy to follow and you can guess who the bad guy is pretty early on. The dude who lured them there (Jack) was evil the whole time and needed to harvest souls for some unnamed and unseen entity he works for. That part isn’t properly built up to nor explained and we’re supposed to jump to a lot of conclusions to make the plot make sense. During the flashback sequences, we see the plan unfold to what is essentially a mutiny/heist at sea with the crew members stealing all those rich asshole’s gold they’re traveling with. It is well known that rich people travel around with their entire wealth at all times just for fun.
Then, in true Dark Castle Entertainment fashion, there are like 17 double-crosses and more people die and their souls get trapped in the haunted vessel. How that all ties in with a demon or a satan is unclear.
The best parts of the movie are the ghosts each taking their time to mess with the different crew members and their reality, whether it’s to lure a horny dude to his death with a sexy lady or to make Karl Urban eat maggots. The ghosts get off on making people do stupid shit, I guess. I suppose all the main characters were ‘sinners’ who drank too much, were horndogs or were just plain greedy, so they were just beggin’ to have their souls reaped.
Overall, the movie isn’t very good but it also isn’t the worst thing. The lead actress was good, she never made any overtly stupid decisions like literally every other character in the 6 movies we watched, and it was short. Unfortunately, the film insists on trying to be clever, but it winds up being unclear, convoluted, and most importantly, not very scary. The most frightening part was Mudvayne blaring over the end credits. Jesus, I can’t wait to get away from the early 2000’s nu-metal horror soundtracks.
directed by: Matthieu Kassovitz ; written by: Sebastian Gutierrez
cast: Halle Berry, Robert Downey, Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill, Penelope Cruz, Dorian Harewood, Bronwen Mantel, Kathleen Mackey
running time: 98 minutes
release date: November 21, 2003
other horror movies released Fall ’03: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake), House of the Dead, Cold Creek Manor, Cabin Fever, The Order, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, Mimic 3: Sentinel, Speed Demon, Shark Zone
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
Gothika may be the darkest Dark Castle movie yet and by that I mean you can barely see anything. It’s also BY FAR the most boring.
This is one of the few of these films that I never got around to seeing on original release, so I am reviewing it without knowing really anything about it except that it’s full of A-list actors and Halle Berry is absolutely drenched most of the time. Google Image Search will back me on this.
Halle Berry plays a psychiatrist working at a penitentiary somewhere in Connecticut who spends most of her time swimming, making out with her husband/boss, and chatting with her patient Penelope Cruz. In various sessions, Cruz insists she’s being raped by the devil. Also, Berry works with a recently sober (in real life) Robert Downey Jr. One night on the way home from work during a torrential downpour, she crosses the bridge from Beetlejuice and crashes her car after a ghost-lady appeared in the middle of the road. Berry then wakes up in prison covered in the blood of her recently-axed husband/boss (axe-husband?). Everyone thinks she did it, so she’s now in big trouble.
In prison, Berry claims she’s innocent but the sheriff, played by John Carroll Lynch, tells her her husband was his bestie and is a murderer. She befriends Cruz, who she finds may not be that crazy after all! Also, the ghost-lady she saw in the street earlier seems to have followed her to prison. Ghost-lady unlocks her cell door one night and, after wandering the halls, Berry sees someone brutally attack Cruz in her cell. She then has some more encounters with the evil spirit that seems to be possessing her for some unknown reason. She eventually figures out that the spirit is that of her superior’s daughter who allegedly committed suicide. Very fishy!
Berry escapes the hospital again because security there is apparently optional. She finds out her husband/boss had a hidden house upstate that turns out to be a snuff film rape dungeon and that the ghost-lady was one of his victims. She deduces that she is becoming a vessel for her revenge on her killers!
Yes… I said killers! The other person involved was none other than her husband/boss’ bff the Sheriff, confirmed when she sees his tattoo matches the rapist attacking Cruz earlier! Her and the sheriff get into a battle to the death, where she eventually lights him on fire and fucking shoots him. Then Robert Downey Jr. shows up and does nothing.
We then flash forward with Cruz and Berry now free, because apparently all that shit she did was fine since her husband was a serial killer. The cops are totally cool with vigilante justice and escaping institutions. Then in the last scene, Halle Berry looks over and sees a little kid about to get destroyed by a bus, but he’s a ghost already and he’s fine.
I feel like I did a poor job of describing the movie because it was impossible to pay attention. It’s trying to be a twisty horror/thriller ‘whodunit’ but it just drags on and is visually not very interesting. I know the DP is a pretty talented dude with an impressive body of work (Requiem For A Dream, A Star Is Born, Black Swan) but this film is just dark and ugly. It’s like he lit the entire thing with an overhead fluorescent tube. Maybe that was the point since it takes place in an asylum, but it was still not very fun to look at for 2 hours. I don’t have much else to say about it because it was not even ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ like some of the other trash we watched, just forgettable . Acting was meh, story was confusing, directing was bad, cinematography was ugly. Overall, just boring. What’s your opinion, Mike? I think you hated this one too.
I haven’t seen this since an eighth-grade sleepover at this French girl’s house. Her parents put it on for us and I think part of the reason is that it’s directed by the acclaimed French filmmaker/actor Matthieu Kassovtiz. American audiences know him best as Amelie’s boyfriend in Amelie or the bomb maker guy who cries a lot in Munich. However, arthouse kids from the 90s know him for writing and directing 1995’s La Haine or Hate, an absolutely spectacular black and white French film about the Paris police brutality riots of the mid-90s as seen through the eyes of three teenage friends – a Jew, a North African Muslim and an Afro-French boxer. Kassovitz displayed such an eye for natural cinema in that movie, his debut feature, that it’s almost shocking his Gothika is so fake looking – not to mention absolutely terrible, barely lit, and having that gosh darn shitty light blue filter over EVERYTHING. It’s like the film stock was soaked in Glacier Freeze Gatorade Frost. Shout out to all my Glacier Freeze Gatorade Frost fans! Who else thinks it’s the best Gatorade flavor?
Anyway, back to this stupid eighth-grade sleepover at that French girl’s house. About halfway through, we all became completely bored and started doing other things only to re-focus during the final fifteen minutes which left us confused and apathetic about life in a way a thirteen-year-old should never feel. It’s not even that Gothika suffers from terrible pacing and unoriginal ideas, nothing about this movie makes sense. The characters don’t seem like real human beings, they don’t act and react the way functioning humans do, and their professionalism as doctors is abhorrent. Halle Berry is banging Charles S. Dutton (first unrealistic thing) but she’s also married and deeply in love with him (absolutely ludicrous.) She’s working with a much more handsome Robert Downey, Jr., fresh and clean from rehab, who has a giant crush on her that he doesn’t even try to hide. He keeps dogging her about getting pizza and then, perhaps the most unrealistic thing in the movie, Halle Berry claims to not like pizza. First of all, fuck you, Halle Berry, everyone loves pizza. Second of all, fuck you, Halle Berry, everyone loves pizza! Hopefully, she was just lying to not have to have a meal with this walking hard-on, so she can go home and have a meal with her walking meatball (Charles S. Dutton). Along the way, she crashes on the Beetlejuice bridge, encounters a ghost lady on fire, and wakes up what I’m assuming is weeks later in a mental hospital, where Robert Downey Jr. tells her she murdered her husband.
First of all, Robert Downey, Jr. should recuse himself from treating her because of their history. It’s just so unbelievably unprofessional. Second of all, now Halle Berry has to adjust to life as persona non grata, with no friends in her corner, thrown into a mental institution with Penelope Cruz who spits water at her and stuff. In the shower room, she’s attacked by the spirit once again and then again, and then Penelope Cruz is raped by this big white dude with a Virgin Mary tattoo or something and then Halle Berry convinces cops to search her dead husband’s summer home and they find all this shit that proves her husband was raping and murdering underage girls for like thirty years or something. His partner was Drew Carey’s brother AKA John Carrol Lynch who is always Hollywood’s go-to creep (Zodiac, Carnivale, American Horror Story). He rips his shirt off to reveal his tattoo and a big fight breaks out between him, Berry and the ghost girl and then he shoots a shotgun into a gas pipe or something and the hospital explodes. Berry survives and is exonerated. The movie ends in the stupidest way possible with a one year later tag or six months later or I’m not fucking looking it up. Who gives a shit. Anyway, she’s walking down the street and she sees this child get murdered by a speeding bus. She cries out but just as the bus is about to hit the kid, the kid disappears into smoke. He’s a ghost. Now, she must replace Jennifer Love-Hewitt as the Ghost Whisperer. Thank Gosh we never got a sequel.
I hated this movie. It was such an excruciating watch, because it seemed like it was never going to end. I literally missed chunks of it because I was so bored I just elected to close my eyes and imagine something that didn’t suck so much pig dick. Halle Berry was atrocious. Robert Downey, Jr. was atrocious. Charles S. Dutton was atrocious. John Carroll Lynch was atrocious. The only decent performance came from Penelope Cruz, who the movie should have been about. Not some lame-ass doctor played by Halle Berry. You can catch Penelope Cruz this holiday season in Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, in theaters sometime in December.
House of Wax
directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra ; written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Paladecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard, Damon Herriman
running time: 113 minutes
release date: May 6, 2005
other horror movies released Summer ’05: Red Eye, The Devil’s Rejects, The Skeleton Key, Dark Water, Land of the Dead, Dracula III: Legacy, Hellraiser 7: Deader
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
God, I hated this one. This was my least favorite viewing experience other than The Reaping and Gothika, which really tells you how truly awful these Dark Castle movies are. Watching it caused me physical pain and it was only the third worst one. Gothika was the last Dark Castle movie I saw in theaters, so this was my first time checking this one out. I remember it playing and my dad refusing to take me because of Paris Hilton, but I remember being interested in the trailer when I was a stupid 14-year-old. “How spooky!” I thought, to be molded alive into a wax sculpture. Well, now as a 32-year-old man, I can answer that the only spooky thing about this movie is that it’s almost two hours, two hours I’ll never get back.
So basically it’s about these really poorly drawn high school characters led by 24’s Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray. They are siblings and for some reason, people give Chad Michael Murray a lot of shit. I think it’s because he’s Chad Michael Murray. Anyway, the two siblings are on some sort of road trip, hanging out drinking near this campsite along with Cuthbert’s boyfriend Jared Paladecki (of Supernatural fame), Paris Hilton, and her boyfriend, Robert Ri’chard, and Scary Movie’s Jon Abrahams as the unfunny goofball friend. They start getting harassed by this mysterious figure in a pick-up truck and end up in a small town where everyone is a wax sculpture. The evil wax sculpture guy (John From Cincinnati‘s Brian Van Holt) pretends to be good but it’s so obvious he’s the killer/wax baron. One by one they start getting attacked and all die except Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray.
This one tries to do a lot with atmosphere, and it thinks is far creepier than it actually is. I mean, shit, mannequins are more sinisterly presented in a store window at Dillard’s. We get some of the banalest, unrealistic teen dialogue and relationship dynamics and while everyone in the cast is firmly mediocre, Paris Hilton really takes the cake here for giving one of the worst performances in a Dark Castle movie. She also gets brutally shish-kabobed through the skull in a way that sort of grossly plays to a significant portion of the audience that actually want her dead IRL. There’s also way too many explosions for this type of movie, so much so that while shooting the filmmakers accidentally burned down the studio they shot at in Australia and were consequently sued by Warner Bros.
I’ve never seen the Vincent Price original but I can only imagine it’s a masterpiece compared to this, a movie where we’re given absolutely nothing or no one to care about. If you’d like to see a much creepier and weirder evil mannequin movie check out 1979’s Tourist Trap with The Rifleman‘s Chuck Connors and Charlie’s Angels‘ Tanya Roberts. That’s a truly spooky movie and a far more interesting one. This is just like D-level Scream that feels like it belongs in the 90s. Danny, what did you think? Your wife saw this in theaters, right?
That’s correct! My wife was a huge Chad Michael Murray fan because in high school, she loved dudes with 3 first names. She apparently thought the movie was scary but upon rewatch, she has changed her mind from ‘scary’ to ‘literal trash.’
I do have to disagree with you a bit though, Mike. I would certainly have this movie higher up on the list because although it was LONG, badly paced, and unnecessarily mean-spirited, at least it didn’t have any goddamn paranormal shit in it. It’s fairly straightforward; there are some crazy killers who like to make people into wax figures. Some teens stumble across the town that the killers run and BAM, you have a scary movie. No need for a ghost to double-cross a rapist or some confusing bullshit like that.
Unfortunately, the movie came out in dawn of the ‘torture-porn’ subgenre of horror, where the Hostel and Saw movies ruled the theaters. We, as Americans, were apparently so bloodthirsty that the regular slasher film wouldn’t quench our blood-lust. I would argue this genre took off because it was post-9/11 and the 24/7,365 news cycle showed us nothing but terrible stories, desensitizing us to human misery. So naturally, the only way to make scary movies scary again was making the horror way more extreme, with emphasis on the suffering itself. But I’m no film scholar, this is just a terrible hypothesis on a friend’s movie blog about why this dumb movie features TWO scenes where someone gets stabbed in the Achilles.
Regardless of the cultural atmosphere at the time, the film is still jam packed full of big, huge dummies. Perhaps the most egregious example of ‘characters splitting up in ill-advised situations’ we’ve seen from any of these films. The main character, Elisha Cuthbert, sits alone in a stranger’s truck while her dumbass boyfriend has to use the bathroom in said stranger’s spooky giant spooky house. But he decides to not only leave his girlfriend alone in a rando’s vehicle during the night, he wanders around the house, digging through files and just being a busybody in general. He literally has no reason to do any of this besides maybe he’s a kleptomaniac who gets off on stealing props from horror movies. He is soon attacked, stabbed and turned into a wax mannequin while Elisha has to flee in terror as the killer attempts to murder her as well.
A majority of the film’s deaths could have been avoided if the victim had an IQ north of 50. None of the characters were likeable and Paris Hilton’s death scene was unnecessarily violent, it was 100% written for the sole purpose of getting asses in seats.
“Wanna go watch the movie where Paris Hilton gets a pipe though her head?”
“Sure, bro! We can clap in the theatre when it happens! She’s the worst!”
All while she counts her money. If you can leverage how hated you are to make more people come see a fantasy of you being aggressively murdered, well… get that bag! Any publicity is good publicity, right?
Overall again, this one is middle of the pack. Not nearly as confusing as the others, but also the characters are smooth brained idiots and the kills were nasty for the sake of being nasty while also being stupid. Lastly, the titular House of Wax was apparently entirely made of highly flammable wax? Like, the second story floor and walls and everything? Is wax even flammable? This building was certainly NOT up to code.
directed by: Stephen Hopkins ; written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
cast: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea, William Ragsdale
running time: 99 minutes
release date: April 5, 2007
other horror movies released Spring ’07: Grindhouse, Dead Silence, The Abandoned, Hannibal Rising, Pumpkinhead 4: Blood Feud, The Messengers, The Hitcher, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Three, Murder Party, Primeval, Barricade, August Underground’s Penance, Bottom Feeder, Decoys 2: Alien Seduction, Diary of a Cannibal, Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, The Hitchhiker, Sublime
MARGETIS = BLUE ; DANNY = RED
Did you ever wonder what True Detective season 1 would look like if it was directed by someone with severe head trauma during the height of Satanic Panic? Well, then you’ll love The Reaping! Thankfully the last movie on this terrible journey.
Okay, this one is quite the doozy. This movie clocks in at 5 minutes shorter than Gothika, but feels like it was about a quarter of the length because it is constantly moving. I am going to very briefly describe this one the best I can.
Hilary Swank plays a… professor? Doctor? Scientist? I am not sure, but she apparently leads an ‘Anti-religion 101’ class at LSU and shares her exploits with her students of her going around the world, telling religious people in random countries that they’re idiots for believing in God. You can tell she’s in a shithole country because the filmmakers decided to put the ‘sepia’ filter on whenever she goes anywhere brown people live.
Swank and her assistant, the only character with any charm, Idris Elba, are called into a rural Louisiana town called Haven where a river supposedly turned to blood. From that point on, they start seeing more and more plagues popping up around the town, like frogs falling from the sky, cattle dying of disease, and all the kids getting their heads shaved because of a lice infestation. The plagues start lining up pretty quick, so quick in fact that sometimes they’re still registering a previous plague when a new one starts. Like I said, it moves!
Swank hates religion now because her child and husband were sacrificed by an African tribe in Sudan who wanted to end a drought and blamed them, which is tragic. Who would have thought a white family imposing their religion on a different culture across the world would bring such events?!
She finds that there is a girl running around the woods who apparently has some sort of Biblical supernatural powers and all the townsfolk think she’s the devil. Swank and Elba, with the help of a local dude who called them there, search for the Satan worshippers in the woods. The movie’s editing and pacing is a complete mess and actually regressed back to the early 2000’s style of being fast-paced and disorienting. Just know that Swank may or may not have had sex with the local guy who called them there in a trance, locusts show up and kill people even though they never bite anyone, and Idris Elba dies off screen.
Turns out, the entire town are Satanists and the little girl is actually good. There are some twists and turns that are hard to follow. I found myself constantly asking “What is happening?” and “Why are they doing this?” The film concludes with all the townsfolk at the spooky haunted church about to sacrifice the little girl, when God literally starts striking them down with CGI fireballs. He murders everybody but Swank and the little girl in cold blood in a scene that looks right out of an episode of Goosebumps. In the car later, the little girl uses her gift to tell Swank she’s pregnant with…. the devil worshipper’s demonic child! Oh no, satanic panic!
Overall, The Reaping was certainly the worst out of all the movies we watched, but it wasn’t the hardest to get through. It moved quickly, it was constantly demanding my brain to fill in gaps, and for the second time in this series, we see a computer getting hacked by a spirit. It was entertaining and I’d much rather re-watch this over a few of the others. Also, triple fuck Gothika for making me remotely speak kindly of The Reaping. Whatcha thinking, Margetis?
I agree, it was certainly the worst but it wasn’t as difficult to watch as that piece of shit Gothika. I mean, at least this had us laughing at parts. Hilary Swank is a good actress but, much like Halle Berry, she’s like a homing beacon for dog shit movies. Automatically, this felt like it had the intellectual cred of God’s Not Dead with Hilary Swank being so anti-religion it’s well past the point of comedy. She’s bitter cause a tribal man in Africa murdered her daughter and her husband so their crops would grow or something? I dunno, I blocked a lot of this movie out. Here’s a lazy checklist of what I remember, decidedly more effort than the filmmakers put into the actual film:
- Idris Elba is the best part of this movie. He’s the only person acting.
- Really overdoes the whole Louisiana/the South in general only exists to house backwoods, sister-fucking rednecks
- The CGI fireballs scene is absolutely bananas. It looks like a shitty PS1 video game from the early 2000s.
- Hilary Swank is at least watchable in this.
- The white male lead is terrible, truly terrible. And it’s so obvious he’s the villain from the second he pops into the movie.
- Great Louisiana BBQ ruined by those goddamn locusts.
- So a lake full of human blood, huh? Yeah, let’s just dive in with our clothes on. CANNON BALL!!!! WTF?!?!
- If this whole town is filled with first-born children because the town murdered every other child they had, why does that one family have a bunch of kids rolling around in the pick-up truck. Is their plan to just murder those kids in the near future? This is fucking gross.
- The ending makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Either Satan’s chosen one is the creepy little girl or Hilary Swank’s unborn child, it can’t be both at the same time!!! It’s amazing to me that the person who conceived this ending possessed the brain power to drive themselves to set every day.
Anyway, I hated this movie so much. It deserves none of your time.
These were all terrible movies and ultimately the best of the pack, House on Haunted Hill, was somehow more competent than the rest. The only thing that infuriated me more than The Reaping‘s complete lack of logic ending was having to sit down and re-watch the brutally dull Gothika for almost two hours. Fuck Dark Castle Entertainment.
- House on Haunted Hill (3/10)
2. Ghost Ship (3/10)
3. Thir13en Ghosts (2/10)
4. House of Wax (2/10)
5. The Reaping (1/10)
6. Gothika (1/10)
With almost nothing redeeming about any of the films, this was a truly miserable experience that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I am considering filing a class action lawsuit against Dark Castle Entertainment and I encourage you all to join me to make sure they don’t ever hurt anyone ever again.
1. House on Haunted Hill (3/10)
2. Ghost Ship (3/10)
3. House of Wax (2.5/10)
4. The Reaping (2/10)
5. Thir13en Ghosts (2/10)
6. Gothika (1/10)
On the Next Franchise w/ Me…
Something with Kyle. Open to suggestions.