Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE HAUNTING (1999)

After mulling it over, I think I have less of an issue with remakes than lots of horror folks.  To me, if you're not going to get upset about another version of Othello or Antigone (how many do there need to be???), you should likewise be tolerant of films taking good material in another direction.  That's not to say that certain remakes aren't a bad idea—I can't imagine EXORCIST working as well in a modern, even more skeptical setting—but the main stumbling block for me is general lack of quality.  Horror remakes aren't the problem; bad horror films are.  


Look at all the stars!  And yet I actually forgot that there was a HAUNTING remake until it showed up on Netflix, which should please people who are fearful of classics being dislodged by their remake spawn.  We open with Eleanor (Lili Taylor) having a spat with her bitchy sister while her bratty nephew destroys the apartment.  Said apartment ain't gonna be Eleanor's for long, thanks to her mom's will's provisions.  Fortunately, opportunity knocks in the form of a newspaper ad.


Opening with Eleanor barking back at her dingbat family is kind of a really bad decision, character-wise.  Because immediately she heads to Hill House where the titular haunting will go down and where she will inexplicably transform into the mousy, fragile Eleanor of the original film.  Jarring, but we must press on.  This HAUNTING happens in a more wealthy America and you can see the lucre flushed into this more ostentatious Hill House.


The set design, interior and exterior, could legit be this film's MVP.  What we see is all very carefully staged with color and shadow splashed masterfully throughout the frame.  It tilts toward the surreal, which can only help a film about supernatural business.  I also enjoyed the Jerry Goldsmith score.  Relish this positivism, because it's just about time to bitch.


THIS SCRIPT.  The stuff that's just slopped over from the first film or the Jackson novel is fine, if delivered in a pretty uninspired way.  But the changes!  Spoilers!!  This HAUNTING is far more of a conventional good-vs.-evil thing than the original film, with Eleanor/Nell at one point screaming about "FAMILY" (after she beats up a CGI griffin with a metal pole).  HAUNTING '99 loses the undercurrent of perverse sexuality that powered the novel and first film; instead, we get your basic loud-noises horror film, just with a weirdo protagonist for no reason.  It's pretty crazy that the '60s version of THE HAUNTING is way more challenging than its '90s cousin.  And kind of depressing.


I don't hate Owen Wilson, but I do hate what he represents.  I don't watch Owen Wilson comedies, so whenever I see him, I assume it's because he's been drafted into a genre I like.  And, usually, it's to add comic relief or lite comedy, such as happens here (or that I'm watching PARIS AT MIDNIGHT, which means I've been tricked again).  HAUNTING '99 constantly undercuts its own tensions, slicing wildly at its own throat and Achilles' tendons, by making Wilson deliver lines about Teletubbies and other wacky topics that no one now remembers.  Plus Wilson has a carpet-riding scene that ties Taylor's griffin battle and Zeta-Jones saying, "YOU DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT INSOMNIA" as this film's most excruciating moment.


This film is incredibly concerned about Lili Taylor's hair.  There are three different scenes in which her hair is the object of total attention, two of which involve the haunting manifesting itself through Lili Taylor's hair.  I couldn't find the scene in which she has a devilock, but it's the cutest.  The screencap below is a runner-up, must-seeable for different reasons, awful CGI ones.


This might have been better if they'd made the whole thing in MS Paint.  The CGI in this is hit or miss, but FX in general are badly overused.  Subtlety is generally your best practice in a haunted house film, but, after it finishes spinning its wheels for 1/2 its running time, this HAUNTING vomits angry ghost faces and nonplussed cherubs all over your screen.  Bitchy Hill House is an especially egregious example.


This isn't a failure because it's not THE HAUNTING (the real one).  It's a failure because what it's trying to do isn't worthwhile.  A haunted-house movie with poor characterization and multiple camp classic scenes and 15 minutes of Lili Taylor hair probably won't turn out well, no many how many pixels and credit cards you throw at it.  Soulless and loud, like a lot of 90s horror, and I think my run of 90s stuff has come to a close.  Next year needs to be scuzzier, with stuff screened in theaters that reek of cheap cleaning products, and having little to do with Lili Taylor hair.


RATING: 3

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