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"The Haunting"

Directed by Jan de Bont ("Speed").
Written by David Self. 
Starring Liam Neeson, Lily Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.
Release Year:  1999 
Review Date:  7/25/99 


Intrinsically, the only difference between "The Haunting" and "The Blair Witch Project" is that the latter is actually scary.  Don't mind the fact that the budgets are about $120 million apart, one has major Hollywood stars and the director of "Speed" at the helm, and one is only showing on 32 screens while the other is showing on almost 3,000--the basic fact of the matter is that "The Haunting" simply is not very frightening.

But of course, they fall into two different categories of horror.  "The Blair Witch Project" is that most scary of scary: the unseen.  Sure, as I've mentioned, there was a girl sitting next to me during "BWP" that was panting for the last 10 minutes of the movie, but it was because the buildup of the previous 70 minutes of fear was so intense that she couldn't let go of the armrest.  Conversely, "The Haunting" is in the boogeyman category, and it is very similar to a very funny horror movie called "The Relic", which itself featured some of the worst acting ever filmed.  This is the type of horror where you are with a date, and every four minutes or so the movie tries its hardest to scare the hell out of you with, say, a cat that meows or a creature appears in a doorway (with SDSS sound effects, for good measure) and makes your date really squeeze into your arm, to which you say to yourself, "I wish this trik would stop squeezing my fucking arm" but you smile like nothing is happening.  I usually think that the boogeyman category, like the Grizzly roller coaster at Kings' Dominion, can really be fun to get a good, quick scare out of you, and then you can go on with your regularly scheduled programming.

Unfortunately, "The Haunting" is so bad, so not scary, and features such a bad ending that none of this is possible.  A doctor (Liam Neeson.  LIAM NEESON, for crying out loud!) invites three insomniacs  (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor--LILI TAYLOR, formerly known to me as a well-respected, independent actress until she sold out to this trash) to the Hill House, a ginormous house in the Hamptons, where he is really conducting an experiment on fear.  Boy, if he only knew how fucked up this house was before he decided this was the best place for the study!!  The rest of the movie is spent finding out the mystery behind why the house is still haunted by its past after all of these years.

The positives here are easy:  incredible special effects.  The house comes to life after the four main inhabitants are stuck in it for a week, and Hollywood went all out to animate various aspects of the house.  This is some cool stuff, and it is the only reason that this movie did not hit the bottom of my ratings barrel.

The much-less-than-positives:  well, let's start with the actors. 

The aforementioned Neeson is one of my personal favorites because, remember, he starred in "Darkman" years ago.  But, with "Schindler's List", "Rob Roy", and "Star Wars" under his belt, what the fuck was he thinking when he signed on to this one?  He is given nothing to do and even though he received top billing, the three insomniacs all have more screen time than he does.  And then, there's Zeta-Jones:  to follow up "Entrapment" (Hard Vice) with this movie is out-and-out shocking.  I'm going to say this once:  she needs to do a sexually-charged, action-packed extravaganza before everyone forgets who she is.  It couldn't hurt for that movie to feature a lot of nudity.  No, I'm not kidding.  And Owen Wilson--well, I don't even know who this guy is, but I'm pretty sure somebody that looked just like him got beat up every day that I was in high school because he was a total tool.  Taylor is given the majority of the screen time, and while she is a very good actress, she has almost zero star power, and I got bored watching her slowly unravel the mystery of Hill House.

The set-up of the story is good but the development and the ending of the plot blows, and as I mentioned earlier, there are almost no real scares throughout the movie.  The filmmakers mistook "loud, groaning sound effects" for "scares" and hence, the theater was about as quiet as your office at 5:01 on a Friday afternoon.

If anything else, this review should tell you what you should already know:  if you had time to read this, it means that you are not currently watching "The Blair Witch Project", and you should have done that by now.  Luckily, the movie will be selling out this weekend when it moves into more theaters.  I know that I am doing some overhyping of this film, but I am sure now, a week later, that it is the best horror movie I've ever seen.  I still get chills when I think about the ending...

Rating:  Rental ("Kickass" Simon voted for Hard Vice, but it did have nice special effects)


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09