Tuesday, May 4, 2010

HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE

Allegedly inspired by "true events" and borrowing liberally from previous haunted house movies, The Asylum's HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER HOUSE (2009) is a reasonably effective little ghost story.

The Grenier family (Michael Holmes, Lira Kellerman and Patty Roberts) arrive at the titular manse, having been employed as caretakers. Unfortunately, the house is cursed - the spirits of everyone ever killed by a Winchester rifle haunt the family mansion, and, apparently, anyone who happens to be there. Plus, there are the ghosts of some of the Winchesters themselves, still hanging around, trapped by their own tragedies. Over the course of one hellish night, the Greniers - with the help of a paranormal investigator conveniently living nearby (Tomas Boykin) - must uncover the secrets of Winchester House and try to survive until morning.

Now, HAUNTING's not going to win any awards for originality, but director Mark Atkins (MERLIN & THE WAR OF THE DRAGONS, PRINCESS OF MARS) manages a few decent scares and suspense scenes, and (much to my surprise) shows remarkable restraint with the effects, using only a tiny amount of digital trickery, and instead relying on practical effects, lighting, editing and sound to carry out most of the supernatural stuff. (One glaring exception is the use of a strangely under-detailed CGI model for exterior shots of the house itself.) This eschewing of computer animation is unexpected in an Asylum film, and quite welcome. Other pluses are Atkins' cinematography/videography, which is extremely moody and atmospheric and Chris Ridenhour's creepy musical score.

I also liked that it unfolded at a somewhat leisurely pace rather than trying to race through the story, throwing stuff at the audience. Many of today's attention-impaired and impatient viewers may find that boring, but I found it to be quite effective and appropriate to the genre.

In the minus column are the aforementioned subpar digital establishing shots of the house, and some very dodgy performances by Holmes and Boykin, though Lira Kellerman - who starts out rather wooden - does get better as the film goes on.

The Asylum's DVD presents the movie in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Surround sound. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes video, a few deleted scenes, and the usual batch of trailers for other Asylum titles.

I don't want to oversell this movie - but as haunted house films go, I enjoyed it more than, say, A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT or some of the other recent big studio genre efforts, and was impressed that Atkins and his crew chose to keep it "real." The script does somewhat rip-off much better films (like THE SHINING and THE OTHERS), but for a super low-budget spookshow, it's considerably better than it could have been.

I rather liked it.

BUY: Haunting of Winchester House