A Bates Motel Movie Without a Motel versus A Retold For Profit Haunted Sleepover :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Horror Movies :: The Bates Haunting (2012) and House On Haunted Hill (1999)

No theme to be seen for miles this week, and in some ways I suppose it showed. Neither film really blew me away, though there was definitely one that was all those miles better than the other. Our first film came from the Red Box machine at the local grocery store. I had a few credits to use and admittedly I was drawn to both the reference to Psycho/Bates Motel and the mention of it being a theme park based horror film, so into the Saturday Horror Movie mix it went. The other film was chosen solely because after watching, and enjoying, the original House on Haunted Hill I was curious about seeing the nineties remake, helmed in part by William Castle’s daughter, Terry Castle. Neither quite lived up to their predecessors, though I did enjoy some of the cast in the second film. They cannot all be winner weeks, though, can they?

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The Bates Haunting (2012)

Oh my, what a let down this film was. First of all, there was not only no real connection to Psycho or the Bates Motel, but there was no motel to speak of. In fact, there was even a moment in the dialogue where the owner’s of the theme park state that often they get calls for reservations for a motel that is not there at all. The family in question surname is Bates though, and at the very end we do catch a blink-and-you’d-miss-it glimpse of someone dressed up like Norman as Norma, from the original film, but beyond that, there was nothing else. The movie poster, though, actually shows a replica of the Bates house, with a shadowy “Norma” type figure in the window, which I can only guess was meant to help attract people like me to the movie.

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To be honest, I think I might have liked the film more if they had left the imagery and the suggestion of connection off of the whole movie. The fact that it is based on a real place – The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride at Arasaha Farm, in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania – would have been enough to peak my interest. I actually enjoy a good indie horror film, and am a fan of scary stories told about theme parks. That said, for a better experience in indie horror and an almost theme park experience, I would whole-heartedly suggest you seek out the film Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead, which does pay homage and connect to the movie it uses in the title, is based around a horror convention, and though filled with a reasonably unknown cast, is actually a scary good time.

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The one, and only, saving grace for me was the character of Clyde, played by Dante Lucca. He had a few witty one-liners, that may not even have been that wittily written, but he did deliver them with that sarcastic dead pan delivery that I have a soft spot for. His character is never fully flushed out, nor his friendship with Agnes, but in some ways it was refreshing that he was friend and sidekick, and not contrived love interest. There were moments when Agnes, played by a Jean Louise O’Sullivan, who could pass as Lana Del Rey’s younger sister, and Clyde seemed almost Scooby Doo gang in their rapport with each other, and both actors seemed to try to transcend the material. I actually found myself briefly wondering what Kevin Smith and/or Joss Whedon could do for both of these actors.

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There are brief (very brief) appearances by both Bam Margera and Ryan Dunn, both from Jackass fame, among other things. Ryan’s was at least good for a laugh as the angry pizza customer, Bam, on the other hand, was a blink and he’s gone appearance which had me asking “wait…was that Bam?” I can only assume that they were either friends of the filmmaker, or of the actual theme park that the movie was based on, in Pennsylvania.

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Plot wise, this film had no real merit. There were moments where we discussed the possibility of twists and plot turns that would have both helped to make sense of the story, and had some uniqueness to the film. Alas, none of the ideas came to fruition. Instead, we had decisions made that had no sense to them, characters who had no defined characteristics, and an ending that felt so clumsy and thrown together that I was not even sure the actors believed it.

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They are all wondering where the plot went, too.

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House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Alright, so perhaps it is unfair for me to review this film so soon after watching the original, but watching the original is what made me want to give the remake a try. I am a big fan of cover songs, and though remakes do not always make my list of top movies, there are exceptions to every rule. Dark Castle has had my attention before, especially with the films Ghost Ship and RocknRolla, so with their involvement, as well as William Castle’s daughter producing, I had high hopes. The cast is pretty noteworthy, as well. Overall, I did like the film. There were things I took issue with, and comparisons that I could not help but make, but on the whole this movie does a good job at paying homage to the original, and taking strides to make the movie its own.

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The movie starts in a much different way, with us meeting Price (named in honor of Vincent Price, who played the original role of Fredrick Loren) at one of his places of work, Price Amusement park, where an odd pair up of singer Lisa Loeb and freshly blonde from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer set, are being shown the scariest of roller coasters. We witness, soon after, Price on the phone with his wife. We are quick to see that their marriage is just as dark and doomed as the original Loren marriage, and that this could lead to the very same end.

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Famke Janssen does a fantastic job at playing the vitriol and jaded Evelyn Stockard-Price, who seems to take much glee in questioning her husband Price’s sexuality, and trying various ways of killing him. She decides a sleepover at a haunted house is in order, and what better place but the old insane asylum with a sordid and evil history, where the patients took over once in a very violent way.

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Location was so much of what I loved about the original, that this switch did not sit well with me, though I do rationally see why they made the choice.

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Geoffrey Rush’s Price never works for me. He seemed to be trying to hard at playing his best Vincent Price, and it came off as forced too much of the time. I wanted him to be campy yes, but to take that camp into a different direction that would play off the much tougher and colder Famke Janssen portrayal. Their chemistry was non-existent, and he was never quite convincing as the leader and host.

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As for the guests, I was torn between liking some. Taye Diggs and Ali Larter worked wonders for me as Eddie and Sara. It was a welcome change to have Sara be stronger and a seeming survivor, not turning into a screaming stereotypical damsel in distress. Taye was strong and sensitive, charismatic, and had me rooting for his survival from the start. Others I disliked, though. Bridgette Wilson-Sampras’ Melissa Margaret Marr seemed more super model than television journalist. I missed the older and more jaded tones that the journalist from the original brought to the mix. Also, Chris Kataan as Watson Pritchett was distracting with what felt like an intentional impression of Robert Downey, Jr. He never seemed to land on any character traits long enough to care about him, or take him seriously.  He honestly seemed terribly miscast.

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This remake runs an additional twenty minutes, and because of this there is an entire extra level to the plot that the original does not have. The asylum is necessary to take this deviation from its predecessor, and taking it as its own makes these big changes a little more palpable. But, coming off the original so recently, I honestly had a rough time with this change. For me, it turned the movie into a stereotypical, predictable horror movie, instead of a creepy thriller that leaves you wondering.

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I did enjoy the inclusion of Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams, originally by the Eurythmics. A nice addition to feature a cover song in a “cover” movie.

Sweet Dreams :: Marilyn Manson
featuring scenes from House on Haunted Hill

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Want to take a roller coaster ride back to the 90’s with Lisa Loeb and Spike?

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