from Shivers #70
Reviews header
The Latest in Horror Entertainment
In this issue: nine pages of reviews, covering:
Film Reviews • This month we feature Jan De Bont’s rather less than terrifying remake of The Haunting and Korean Ghost story Whispering Corridors
Video / DVD Reviews • A massive selection of Horror and Fantasy DVDs featuring Frankenstein (see below) and more including The Mummy, Halloween, a Nightmare on Elm Street Box set, Army of Darkness and The Matrix
Book Reviews • New Horror from Shaun Hutson in Warhol’s Prophecy, Leningrad Nights by Graham Joyce, Dread in the Beast by Charlee Jacob and Hollywood Hex, a look at supernatural happenings in the movies
TV Reviews • We continue our reviews of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with four very fine episodes indeed

Film Review
The Haunting

Director: Jan De Bont
Stars: Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson
Duration: 1hr 53 mins
UK Release: Sept 24th 1999
Oh no! The scenery's getting violent again... Reviewed by
Grant Kempster


selected and edited from Shivers #70

It is easy to see why distributors like UIP thought this would be a good idea. I mean, what a prospect – to take Robert Wise’s classic monochrome shocker and bring it kicking and screaming into the Nineties. Hook up a top Hollywood director, assemble a cast of star names and along with some mind blowing digital effects, design some of the most lavish and mind blowing set pieces seen in cinema, surely it couldn’t fail?

However, as the film starts we begin to see glimpses of what lies ahead – as Nell (Taylor) bemoans at length the torture of looking after her mother, you can almost see director De Bont laying the narrative rug which he clearly intends to pull out from under you later on.

In a slight deviation from the plot of the 1963 original, screenwriter David Self chooses to draw our three innocents to the house via deception, as psychology professor Dr Marrow (Neeson) tells them it’s an insomnia experiment. When they arrive, they are nevertheless greeted by an incredulous housekeeper who explains to them in morose deadpan that no one comes out here after dark, in the night – a scene which is presumably the only moment when you are supposed to laugh.

Thereafter as Marrow indulges his three guests Nell, Theo (Zeta Jones) and Luke (Wilson) with tales of the house’s woeful history, his intentions become a little more clear as he is more intent on understanding fear and how it will effect his trio of subjects.

The number of levels on which this film fails to work are greater than that of Hill House itself. De Bont’s indiscreet camerawork screams cliché and sets up each scare with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. The reason behind this naivety lies in the fact that this project is attempting to update the tale for a ’90s audience, but in its rush to create a contemporary rendering of the story it forgets one important fact. It’s all very well to attempt to capture the essence of a film made 36 years ago, but in doing so, would it not be common sense to remember that we’ve been watching a myriad reinterpretations of The Haunting since then?

Despite this, the film insists on using creaking doors, ridiculously ham-fisted dialogue – “I’ll just leave you alone for a while.” (Exit stage left, closing huge, strangely-carved door behind him.) Add to this spooky-looking ornaments, etc, bake in a moderate oven, etc.

The one element used more than any other is the one that does surpass its predecessor – the effects. They are stunning and they are state of the art, but they are also the final nail in the coffin. Redefining the word ‘overkill’ the SFX create The Haunting credo – ‘If it’s inanimate and it looks creepy, it’s gonna move.’ A host of animated cherubs on your bedstead might be weird, but is it frightening?

So Robert Wise’s film remains definitive, as wealways suspected it would. The overall feeling one gets when the final credits roll is that the whole experience is really such a waste of talent – after all, all aspects of the film from director through to the effects are noteworthy. Liam Neeson is a fine actor (though with this and Phantom Menace, he’s not having much of a summer) as is Lili Taylor, and Jan De Bont has at least made the hair on the backs of our necks stand up in Speed. If only someone had realized what it was that made the original scary, they might have been better able to capture its spirit.

Video Review (DVD)
Frankenstein

Director: James Whale (1931)

Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Frankenstein DVD Reviewed by Stephen Foster

selected and edited from Shivers #70

It’s going to be a busy – and very expensive – lead-up to Christmas for DVD fans, with many of the summer’s biggest hits (The Matrix, The Mummy) jostling for shelf space alongside old favourites.

For example, the success of Stephen Sommers' The Mummy (1999) has prised open the Universal vaults, and several golden age horrors have emerged, blinking, from the tomb. Each title will be supported with supplementary material, making them an essential purchase for the self-respecting genre fan.

The 1931 Frankenstein is the first to be presented. As well as a restored version of the movie (including the famous lake scene, and the reinstatement of Frankenstein’s blasphemous dialogue) the disc boasts The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster, a substantial documentary written by and presented by Frankenstein archivist David J Skal; a commentary track by film historian Rudy Behlmer and a host of publicity materials and photos.

Subsequent releases in the series look likely to follow a similar pattern: The Mummy (1932) features with a Skal documentary Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed and a commentary track by historian Paul M Jensen. The Bride of Frankenstein has commentary by Scott MacQueen and a Skal documentary She’s Alive: Creating The Bride of Frankenstein.