EXCL: Return to House on Haunted Hill Interviews

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Righetti, Vincent, Garcia, Gonzàlez…

Before Hollywood’s remake invasion smothered our genre like some black viscous entity, Dark Castle’s House on Haunted Hill thrust its doors open wide to a world bracing for the turn of the new millennium and the fears galloping in with it. In hindsight, this modernized take on William Castle’s 1959 spookshow starring Vincent Price is a harbinger of things to come; a thermometer thrust into the multiplex scene like a Thanksgiving turkey by studio execs to assess whether audiences were ready for genre remakes. The answer appeared to be yes. “Haunted Hill” grossed $40 million total at the box office and snapped to the number spot on its debut weekend – an advantageous Halloween season bow (October 29th) now cornered by the Lionsgate’s “Saw” thugs. Compounded by the $91 million in returns brought in by the catatonic The Haunting (itself a retread of Robert Wise’s film) four months prior, yessir, things would look good for the remake scene and Dark Castle followed the success of “Haunted Hill” with another William Castle redo, Thi13en Ghosts.

Dollar signs aside, Malone’s gothic re-envisioning of House on Haunted Hill, written by Dick Beebe (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), embraces a squalid visual approach to match the inner shady double-dealings motivating its characters played by Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen (who bark their way through some delicious scenes of palpable hatred), Ali Larter (“Heroes”), Taye Diggs (Chicago), Peter Gallagher (“The O.C.”), Bridgette Wilson (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and SNL’s Chris Kattan. Like Malone’s previous efforts – Tales from the Crypt’s “Only Skin Deep” being a perfect example – “Haunted Hill” exuded a violent and perverse fusion that distinctly called out for an end to PG-13 horror at the time (or, the post-Scream era).

Coming from the man who bled the Lethal Weapon franchise dry, it was inevitable producer Joel Silver would seek a follow-up. Sure enough, in comes Return to House on Haunted Hill starring Amanda Righetti, Cerina Vincent, Erik Palladino, Tom Riley and Jeffrey Combs returning as the evil Dr. Vannacutt. Making his feature directorial debut is former FX artist Victor Garcia who captured Hollywood’s attention with his short film “El Ciclo.” This time, a whole new group of people venture into the Vannacutt Institute in search of its source of evil and not content with spitting out a sequel without some sort of hook, Dark Castle has crafted a unique viewing technique that allows those with HD DVD capabilities to guide the narrative. “Navigational cinema” is what the cool kids are calling it. For more on that, click on the film’s title above and check out the making-of featurette.

ShockTillYouDrop.com met with cast members Cerina Vincent, Amanda Righetti, Laia Gonzàlez and director Garcia in San Diego during the nerd blitz called Comic-Con.

AMANDA RIGHETTI & CERINA VINCENT

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Finally, after months of us hounding you, you can give up the goods – tell us who you play…

Cerina Vincent:
I play Michelle, a girl with secrets. Because of the whole navigational thing I feel my character is very video game-y…

Shock: Say wha…?

Vincent:
I don’t want to say one-dimensional but she’s almost like a character in a video game, along those lines. I start off on one side of the playing field, then my character has a twist or two and I end up on another side. That’s my secret. I’m bitchy and ruthless, and I don’t believe in ghosts and when things start to happen I get a little freaked out.

Shock: Amanda, you play the sister to Ali Larter’s character in this film, what is your impetus to head to the house yourself?

Amanda Righetti:
Ali’s not in the film, but her character get a hold of Dr. Vannacutt’s journal. She ends up sending the journal to me. Desmond [Erik Palladino] is in search of the journal and he comes to my house, much to my dismay I am kidnapped and taken to the house. Arielle’s very independent in the way that she has…you don’t really get to see much of what she has done at the beginning but you understand she has built a magazine, she’s the editor and she has worked hard to get to this point in her life. So she doesn’t give up, she’s a fighter and a survivor and she’s going to do everything in her power to push through it.

Shock: Was it frustrating or difficult at all to do variations on one scene for the branching process?

Vincent:
What was frustrating was when we got to Bulgaria there was all of this added stuff. I had no idea what branching was. It was very confusing because when you work on a character, look at a script, you see where your arc goes so when you shoot out of sequence you know where you’re supposed to be emotionally. This completely makes you deviate from your character, so now if I’m making these other choices in the film, how does my character feel about it – it’s confusing in that point?

Shock: Then communication between director and actor was key to maintain focus. How did Victor help you maintain your sanity then?

Vincent:
Well, because we shot in Bulgaria, communication was difficult. He’s from Spain, then we’ve got some British actors and a crew from Bulgaria, it was hard to get on the page and get where we were going, tell the prop department what props we needed for the new scenes, stuff like that. Victor wrote a lot of the branching scenes and they’re really cool, and I think they’re much cooler, at times, than the foundation script. But Victor was great, everything was pretty self-explanatory and he walked us through it.

Righetti: Victor is such a horror fan, I thought it was great working with him. He really wanted to dig into it, making it really creepy. His ideas with the deaths…he did this short, that I saw, that made me a big fan of his. The way he likes to use sound effects and the sound mix he does makes it so much creepier. He really pays attention to small details like that. I was really excited by his vision with what he wanted to do with this. The navigation cinema – he really just went for it.

Shock: It’s a bold move for a first timer in the feature directing realm.

Righetti:
Very bold, but I think that with the budget he was given and the short amount of days we had to do it, he gave it a lot of care.

Shock: What were your thoughts on the William Malone “House on Haunted Hill” remake?

Vincent:
I enjoyed it, I think this one is even better. Visually, it’s more interesting and the deaths are better. This whole being able to choose the character’s destiny is cool.

Shock: And what about you, Amanda – did you revisit the film to perhaps pick up on anything Ali brought to the table that might have helped you building a greater understanding that Arielle and Sarah were siblings?

Righetti:
I did watch the film and, yeah, it’s hard when you don’t get an opportunity to meet her and talk about how she build her character. But I have an adverse relationship with Sarah in our film, but still, Arielle has the same fight that Sarah does in the ’99 film so it correlates between the two.

Shock: It looks like the production designer took great care recreating the sets from the 1999 film – what was your initial reaction stepping onto the stage for the first time?

Righetti:
Bulgaria is a creepy place on its own. Not entirely, but a lot of the locations we were on were very gritty and old – these old communist buildings where you know something bad had happened in them at one time. Their history made the locations we were shooting in very creepy. Everything was just a little off. It definitely got you into the spirit of the film.

Shock: What was the scariest gag to pull off in the film?

Righetti:
The hydro-pool, the water sequence, which was one of the scenes that sold me on doing the film. When I read it I said, This is really creepy. It was tough, scary, all of the above.

VICTOR GARCIA & LAIA GONZÀLEZ

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Let’s talk about the challenges of coming on board your first feature production and then being saddled with the task of creating what is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure story…

Victor Garcia:
If you’ve seen my short film, it’s a nine minute story with one guy and three sets. I wanted to do something bigger. So, with this film we have everything: Green screens, wire removals, blood, special effects…

Laia Gonzàlez: Rain, fire, water…

Garcia: Everything, so it was a lot of learning.

Shock: And Laia, who is this nurse you play?

Gonzàlez:
I’m “the” nurse, Vannacutt’s assistant. It was a lot of fun to play. When I’m in the character there’s not drama, it was just for fun. I love these kinds of movies. It’s a very physical part and I turned to Victor with a lot of questions, like, How do I move? [laughs] But to work with Jeffrey [Combs] was awesome. I missed the drama though. Because this role was too easy! My direction would be something like, You enter the room and you kill this guy. Okay, that’s cool. It’s okay to disconnect sometimes and take these roles sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a stereotype character, it can be complex if you want it to be.

Shock: The visual palette William Malone brought to the remake, I felt, was a macabre and beautiful fusion. Did you feel chained to that look or do you think you had enough wiggle room to exercise your own creative vision?

Garcia:
In terms of visuals, I was trying not to go the same way. I have a couple of moments that are homage to the remake. There were a few points in the film where I purposely said to myself, I want to take certain shots from Malone’s version. But, basically, the style and use of colors is pretty different. I’m trying to keep the same tone, though, in the action and dialogue but it’s a different approach in terms of visuals.

Shock: The manipulation of an ensemble cast with this navigation cinema technique must have been a bitch.

Garcia:
It was another one of those tricky things. I thought I was going to die. [laughs] But it took a lot of talking and working closely with the cast to get through it. I’ve never had to work with six or more actors like that. So, yes, it was tricky at the beginning because you can come out of film school with what you know, or think you know, but nothing can prepare you. You are there, on set, and you realize, it’s not as easy as you thought.

Those who would like to see Return to House on Haunted Hill on the big screen will have that opportunity at Screamfest in Hollywood on October 15th – click here for details. Visit the film’s official site here or make its MySpace page your friend here.

Source: Ryan Rotten