Haunting of Winchester House DVD Review
Written and Directed by Mark Atkins
2009, Region 1 (NTSC), 85 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on September 29th, 2009
Lira Kellerman as Susan
Michael Holmes as Drake
Tomas Boykin as Harrison Dent
Jennifer Smart as Annie
The legendary Winchester House is a labyrinth of more than 100 rooms built over several decades. The hallways snake through the structure like a maze that trap anyone attempting to navigate their seemingly random trajectories. Stairs lead to the ceiling and doors are built into empty walls. The house is also reportedly haunted by the spirits of people that were victims of Winchester rifles.
Drake (Michael Holmes) and his family plan to live at the Winchester house for a few months as the caretakers while the mansion undergoes renovations. They make the long drive to their new home and arrive to find that they are welcome to stay in the actual house as opposed to the caretaker’s quarters. His wife, Susan (Lira Kellerman), and daughter, Annie (Jennifer Smart), are eager to explore the house and with the help of a map they are able to pick out bedrooms.
Later, while checking out the grounds and surrounding property, Drake meets Harrison Dent (Tomas Boykin), a moderately famous author of paranormal books. There is an exchange of pleasantries, but Dent seems overly interested in the family and the house so they inform him that the property is closed. He leaves his card and urges the family to call if anything weird happens.
Soon, ghostly apparitions appear to each family member, most aggressively to Annie, who follows a mysterious girl and is soon locked in the cellar. Susan dreams of a monster beside her bed and the spirit of a deaf-mute appears in both the basement and attic of the house. The ghost of Sarah Winchester drops by long enough to kidnap Annie, taking her somewhere inside the realm of the dead.
Eventually the house is crawling with ghosts, and our heroes learn they must solve the mystery of the missing Winchester daughter in order to see Annie safely returned. The rifle victims shuffle throughout the old dark house until Drake and Susan complete their task with the help of Dent.
The cast is serviceable at filling the basic requirements, but there is nothing exceptional in any performance warranting a “must see” excitement. The casting of both Annie and the Winchester daughter is questionable as both actresses are playing roles much too young for them. Jennifer Smart is especially awkward as Annie, as the character reacts like a five-year-old while Smart is clearly a teen, thus making the poor girl appear emotionally retarded.
Written and directed by Mark Atkins (Halloween Night), a longtime cinematographer for The Asylum, Haunting of Winchester House is not a bad movie, but it is a slow movie that has the added value of feeling like it is made for a young adult audience. Atkins also shot this film and chose such a low lighting design that when the supernatural fun starts, the events are lost in shadow.
An odd decision to include the text “In the tradition of The Sixth Sense and The Others” on the back cover manages to undermine the “surprise” twist ending. The film is stronger than the usual Asylum fare and it is unfortunately hobbled before it can even begin, assuming anyone reads the anonymous box quotes that clutter these releases.
Although the ending is telegraphed early on and a clumsy re-cap of events provide a Shyamalon-ian twist, the finale is forced into a final “gotcha” that will neither surprise nor satisfy.
Video and Audio:
The 1:78 anamorphic transfer is pretty respectable with no problematic blocking or artifacts marring the picture. Low light levels do not grant any favors in that many sequences are too dark to clearly discern the on screen action.
The 5.1 surround mix gets a nice workout during the numerous supernatural scenes. Dialogue is usually clear, but occasionally buried under the overpowering soundtrack.
The standard extras Asylum audiences have come to expect are present in moderate amounts.
Deleted scenes that add nothing to the mix are offered, and it is easy to see why they were cut.
A short (6-minute) making-of featurette follows the production with the expected positive attitudes and thoughts on the added challenge of incorporating 3D to the experience.
Trailers for this and other Asylum titles round out the official special features.
There is also the option of watching the movie in 3D, and while there are a few moments that pop from the screen the majority of the effect is added depth. The film plays fine in 2D, but it is a popular option and the DVD comes with two pair of 3D glasses.
The Asylum features have a made-for-television vibe that is appealing, but limits the target audience. The DVDs arrive bearing the promise “Special Director’s Cut” (Megafault) or in this case “Unrated and Uncut”, yet the discs offer nothing that elevates the material beyond a PG-13 rating. While not every film requires nudity, adult language or graphic violence, The Asylum would strongly benefit from the occasional “Blood, Boobs and Beast” low-budget precedent set by Roger Corman.
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