Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Baked Zita Jones

I only came up with that supremely witty title for this post about a Catherine Zeta Jones movie because I'm also making dinner right now.

Okay, so, anyways, 'The Haunting,' starring Catherine Baked Ziti Jones, Liam Neeson, and some other people. Incontrovertible evidence that my powers as a Netflix Instant Psychic (TM) are REAL. I've been sending brainwaves out to the Netflix Instant Powers-That-Be for, like, years about this shitshow. Years, people! (Well...I acknowledge that this doesn't really mean my powers as a psychic are working. It probably more means that the odds were that sooner or later yet another stupid expensive overblown movie from the 90s would show up on the list. But I'm taking credit anyway!)

I know I should branch out more and visit some of the deeply terrible movies that have been lingering on the Instant Lists for months if not years, and yet I have such a fond affinity for stupid expensive overblown movies from the 90s that the moment a new one pops up I drop everything for it. What can I say, I'm a creature of habit.

So about 60 years ago Shirley Jackson wrote 'The Haunting of Hill House,' which, like just about all Shirley Jackson stories, is a terrifying, masterful work of literature. It was made into a legitimately scary film, which I never saw because I knew it was scary and I have trouble watching actual scary movies that scare you for realsies. Then, somebody (I'M LOOKING AT YOU MOVIE PRODUCERS WITH NO DISCERNIBLE TASTE) decided it would be a good idea to remake that film, and we all know what happens with that, don't we? Yes we do; we get 'Oldboy', or 'Let Me In,' or, awesomely, 'The Haunting,' directed by Jan de Bont. Jan de Bont, definitively qualified to direct a psychological gothic horror film, as he also made these movies:


Yep, Angie, we know.

Elevator pitch: It's 'Speed,' but in a haunted house. (Sorry, Ms. Jackson. Just...pretend this never happened.) We open on a family squabble while some neighborhood kids sing 'Ring Around the Rosie' in the background. Spooooooky foreshadowing! The great Lili Taylor, slumming like crazy, is a sad sack named Eleanor whose invalid mom just died and who conveniently gets called to join a wacky band of fellow insomniac misfits. The misfits are going to participate in a sleep study in a spooooooooky haunted mansion, under the guidance of sexy borzoi Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson starts talking to another professor-looking dude in a room full of monitors and clipboards (SCIENCE) about his fear experiments, aaaaand six minutes into the movie and we're OUT. So boring! Take off your shirt, bitch!

Eleanor, arriving at the haunted mansion in her Pinto (sigh), wanders around looking at all the creepy statues of dead kids carved into the walls. When she opens the door on Mrs. Dudley, the Wal-Mart version of Mrs. Danvers, the Scary Housekeeper is holding up a bread knife. This is supposed to frighten us, because...what, she's murdering some bread? I'm more frightened by the fact that she's rockin' a frigging skirt, a shawl and a bun in her hair like she's in a community theatre production of 'Our Town.' She leads Eleanor to her room past a supa spooky portrait of the Mysteriouse Olde Tyrant who owned the house:

Apparently the house was owned by Ludwig van Beethoven. Cool!

Ziti shows up next. A fairly long beat of dialogue is expended on her painful Prada boots, but that's "a small price to pay for such savage kicks," a phrase which reeks of the 90s like Amber's Designer Impostors perfume. Ziti promptly begins talking about her boyfriend and her girlfriend, which is so, like, awesome, because mainstream movies were still afraid of The Gays (TM) back in the dark ages and this tells us how hip this whole Haunting situation is. Eleanor shows Ziti around, although she herself has only been in the house for about five minutes, and proceeds to tell her minute gory details about some of the creepy statues that she knows through some process of movie osmosis.

Luke Wilson shows up next. It's actually Owen Wilson, but it's weird that the character is named Luke, so, whatever. After him comes some more dorky white people. How is it possible that a movie like this has no minority character to kill off within the first 40 minutes?

After a dinner where Eleanor drags everybody down by talking about her depressing life, one of the dorky people pretends to play the harpsichord (!?) while Liam Neeson lays the plot of the movie down for us. Can't leave the house, can't use a phone (except for his "trusty cell telephone" in case of emergencies), nobody's coming to help you, you get the drift. One of the disposable characters starts waxing poetic about the spooky house and the harpsichord snaps her in the cheek with a string. Jesus! That gets rid of her quickly and allows the camera to linger spookily on the spooky possessed harpsichord string, while Eleanor stares intently at it. J'ACCUSE!

In the middle of the night Ziti walks in on Eleanor brushing her hair and humming, which is a peculiarly olde-tymey thing to do. Ziti says, appropriately, "I like the way you comb your hair like that." Then she adds, "The world's missed you." Whuh? If this is her way of hitting on Eleanor, she must not get much play. When the house starts making spooky noises, Eleanor runs to Ziti's room to hide, and the two of them start exhaling massive clouds of frozen breath, even though they aren't shivering. IT MUST BE A POLTERGEIST WAGHGH!

If only. When Eleanor finally goes to bed she gets a visitation from one of the creepy dead kids. Rather than have the shit scared out of her, she finds this pleasing. The next day, though, when a creepy dead kid (I'm guessing) lifts up a greasy strand of her hair, she freaks the fuck out. Naturally! And THEN, when somebody (the creepy dead kid again?) writes 'Welcome Home Eleanor' on the portrait of Beethoven, she gets all wounded. Why? It's not like somebody wrote 'Eleanor Likes to Suck Cock' or 'Eleanor Didn't Have Good Enough SAT Scores to Get Into Cornell.'

Eleanor is getting on my nerves. She tells Liam Neeson that adventures are for "soldiers, or the women the bullfighters fall in love with." What the hell kinda analogy is that? And then she's psyched that someone defaced Beethoven's portrait on her behalf. I thought she was mad! And THEN she tells a statue of a creepy dead kid to bring it on, and when the creepy dead kid tries to braid her hair in a cute Swiss Miss style, she spazzes out! The logic of horror movie heroines is not playing out correctly here. When she starts playing detective she comes across a photo album full of olde-tymey studio portraits of Beethoven and his long-suffering wife, although Beethoven was apparently an X-Man, as he looks exactly like this in photographs:

The fuck! The photo album turns into a hilarious olde-tymey flip book showing Eleanor there's a secret in the fireplace. You're goddamned right there's a secret - there's a bunch of dead bodies in there!

So after Eleanor loses her shit, Ziti puts her to bed like she's a little kid, which is frankly creepier than the stuff in this movie that's actually supposed to be creepy. What we think is about to happen is that Ziti and Eleanor are going to make out, which would be awesome, but instead we get a bunch of special effects involving weird dead kid noises, spooky octopus shadows on the walls (?) and the bedroom turning into a giant face WTF. Wracked with disappointment over being bamboozled out of watching girls make out, we say, "Oh. There are some special effects. Look at those special effects!" SNORE. There is one cool spooky moment - or, at least it's something I think is cool - where Eleanor looks in some mirrors and her face goes all Jocelyn Wildenstein. The same thing happens to Jodie Foster's face in 'Contact' when she goes into a wormhole, which is not a euphemism although it should be.

Okeydoke! As with all stupid expensive overblown movies from the 90s, there still appears to be 45 minutes in this fucking thing to wade through. A good 30 of them are spent watching Liam Neeson attempt to climb a rickety stairway (where you can totally see the rigging keeping it from actually falling apart) while Luke Wilson and Ziti spaz the fuck out over the possibility that he might fall about ten feet. Jesus, Liam Neeson's already ten feet tall! Why doesn't he just put his feet down? When his cell telephone (hee hee hee) falls out of his pocket, it smashes like it's fallen out of a helicopter. Give me a break!

A bunch of other un-scary special effects attack the Scooby Gang, although nobody gets hurt (SNORE - if you think about it, at this point the only person who's actually been hurt in this entire thing is the lady who had a piano wire snap her cheek!?). They try to escape the house, where they get attacked by more special effects which don't hurt them and somehow manage to keep them from leaving through the conventions of stupid expensive overblown movies from the 90s. UNTIL!?! Luke Wilson gets dragged into the fireplace on a rug. We're thinking, Oh, great, more SNORE. What boring thing's gonna happen this time? And then he gets decapitated!

I love to be proven wrong.

A bunch more special effects happen while poor Lili Taylor has to yell at the house and at the roaring spectre of Beethoven - er, I mean, Beast. Her climactic lines: "Well, I'm family, Grandpa. And I've come home. Purgatory's over. You go to hell!"

This really is a movie best expressed through memes from other movies, isn't it?

Through further poorly-constructed tropes of stupid expensive overblown movies from the 90s Eleanor is absorbed into the house (huh?) and Ziti gets a good crying close-up. The next morning the Scary Housekeeper and the caretaker show up and unlock the gate to let Ziti and Liam Neeson out. The chain holding the gate together is, like, a bicycle lock chain that a fourth grader could cut through with a small hacksaw. Seriously? Seriously. Aerial pull-out aaaaaaand...

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