AUGUST 26, 2012
GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: CABLE (SYFY)
I like that the Syfy Original Movie brand is expanding into other sub-genres, instead of the usual monster movies. Haunted High is a full on haunted house movie (just in a school), with an old curse that needs to be undone and all that - not a single monster or real world predator (i.e. a shark) to be seen! This comes just a few weeks after the supernatural slasher Boogeyman, and I'm sure they have a found footage thing in the works, because everyone does.
But the novelty alone isn't enough to make the movie good, and Haunted High unfortunately has some issues that kept it from being a (relative) slam dunk for the channel. The biggest is the peculiar dividing of the film's cast, separating them into at least four groups and taking forever to have the survivors band together (at which point they more or less separate again anyway). There's little rhyme or reason to the pacing as a result, and time doesn't seem to flow correctly - one group is trying to hack into a computer, and then they'll cut to the other groups in sequence, only to return to the hacker group still in the process of trying to access the files they want. It's been 15 minutes - you're a shitty hacker if you haven't proceeded!
Thus, the movie feels too episodic, like they just added in characters to pad out the run time. That almost HAS to be true for Charisma Carpenter's character, a teacher who never interacts with any other cast member, wanders around a hallway for a bit, and is then killed, never to be mentioned again. If this was the opening scene, fine - it would work for a Scream style twist. But it's around the 20 minute mark, rendering the scene entirely superfluous. Same goes for the school band, as only one of them is left by the time the various groups meet up, and nothing about their scenes was worth breaking up whatever minor tension the others could have achieved with some focus.
The tone is also strange, in that I couldn't tell who they were making the movie for. The teen-heavy cast and juvenile plotting/gags seemed more fitting for an ABC Family type horror film - the hackers are trying to change their grades like this was a wacky 80s comedy, and one of the scares involves the frogs in the science lab coming back to life and jumping around without hurting anyone. But then the deaths will be kind of gruesome - Carpenter is cut in half, another girl's head explodes, etc. Combined with the awkward structure, it just makes the movie feel like a disjointed mess.
Another odd thing involves how to stop the ghosts. They know that they need to melt some gold coins that the young hero obtained from his grandfather, but for some reason they hold off on that and focus first on a gold ring that also needs to be destroyed (and yes, someone makes a LOTR joke to prevent a smart-ass reviewer from being able to do so), which is much harder to get at, let alone destroy. Seems to me that it would make more sense to get rid of the coins first (as they are in the heroes' possession) and then all they have to worry about is the ring. Just like a test - you answer all the easy ones and then spend your time focusing on the difficult ones. And they're all students running around a school so that metaphor should be even more apparent.
But if you're a fan of Con Air you should be somewhat satisfied, as the film's adult hero is played by Danny "Johnny-23" Trejo, and the villain is MC "Swamp Thing" Gainey. It's not exactly a resume highlight for either man; Trejo spends the first half trapped in a closet, and Gainey is forced to deliver puns that even Dr. Giggles would wince at (all school based, so it's like "Please report to the Principal's office for dismemberment!" or something, followed by maniacal laughter). But both of them seem to be enjoying themselves, and the climax has their ghosts struggling (Trejo without a shirt on, for some reason), so it's nice to see them together as their Con Air characters didn't interact much.
And to be fair, the FX are decent, the bulk of the cast is decimated (I was quite surprised at one death in particular), and again, it's something a bit different for the channel. There were also a minimum of commercial breaks in the first half (only one in the first 40 minutes or so), which helped minimize the disjointedness - the movie was interrupting itself enough, no need for Syfy to exacerbate it by reminding us to watch Paranormal Witness and sign up for QuiBids.com every 11 minutes like usual. Hopefully they'll keep trying to go outside their comfort zone; I'm sure they'll get it right eventually.
What say you?