Horror review: Haunted Castle

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, OCT. 7, 2004

The media kit for this new 3-D horror flick includes a copy of a fax sent out by the IMAX Corporation to the more than 200 giant-screen theatres owning or leasing an IMAX projection system. In the notice an IMAX executive warns: “We are extremely concerned that the violent episodes contained in the film, many of which depict torture and violence, could be degrading to our brand.”

In actual fact, the sequences in question are very brief and fairly tame, showing cartoonish electrocutions and dippings-in-acid of screaming figures that are more automaton than human. If I were the boss of IMAX, I’d be more concerned with the film’s overall failure degrading the brand than anything else.

Not that Haunted Castle doesn’t boast some amazing moments. The riveting opening scenes include a sweeping aerial fly-over of a stormy European seacoast as we follow a car snaking along the coast to a forbidding castle on a cliff. The driver is Johnny, a young musician played by Jasper Steverlinck, vocalist-guitarist for Belgian pop quartet Arid. As the mediocre plot has it, Johnny’s been summoned to the castle in accordance with the final wishes of his estranged mother (Kyoko Baertsoen), a reclusive pop star who sold her soul for fame 20 years ago.

Now the castle’s demonic custodian, Mr. D (as in Devil), and his prancing henchman, Mephisto–both voiced by The Simpsons‘ Harry Shearer–want to offer her son the same deal. They attempt to influence him by showing him the three-dimensional underworld of the castle, most of which is seen in first-person point of view. So when Johnny gets poked at by a swarm of armour-clad knights, their swords and spears are up in your face. And when he hops into a decrepit tram for a wild roller-coaster ride down into the bowels of the place, that’ll be your stomach turning over.

Although some of the 3-D effects are real eye-poppers, they use up the best ones early on–as when bats swoop past Johnny’s shoulder before circling back at him–then rely on routine CGI for the duration. And the script by director Ben Stassen (Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun) is brain-dead and devoid of humour; Shearer’s considerable voice-over talents are wasted in Mephisto’s tiresome explanatory spiels. You’re left thinking that Haunted Castle would be a lot better off without all the unnecessary narrative chatter.

And hey, a little more torture and violence wouldn’t hurt either.

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