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HAUNTED CASTLE

Here’s something unique: a made-for-IMAX animated horror movie.  It apparently caused a fair amount of controversy in IMAX circles, but when all is said and done HAUNTED CASTLE is just what you might expect: a visually impressive but tame and slow moving film best viewed as a cinematic amusement park ride.

The Package 
     The 38-minute HAUNTED CASTLE, produced by the Belgian outfit nWave Pictures, touched off a minor stir with IMAX executives.  They were dismayed that the film wasn’t sufficiently family-friendly (and so apparently went against “customer’s expectations from our brand”) and encouraged IMAX theater managers not to screen it.  The writer-director Ben Stassen, a longtime 3-D specialist, publicly hit back at IMAX’S short-sightedness, but apparently learned his lesson: his subsequent films (including 2005’s WILD SAFARI 3-D and the feature-length FLY ME TO THE MOON from 2008) have been safe and family-friendly. 

The Story 
     Aspiring musician Johnny is summoned to an ominous seaside castle that belonged by his deceased mother.  The fact that the place is haunted becomes evident immediately, as Johnny is greeted (none too cordially) by a bunch of bodiless suits of armor.  He’s led to an upstairs fireplace where “Mr. D,” a freaky talking head that appears amidst the flames, makes Johnny an offer: hand over his immortal soul in exchange for fame and fortune.  Mr. D even gives Johnny some time to think about it.
     Johnny takes this opportunity to explore the castle’s incredibly elaborate dungeons.  They lead down into an impossibly vast Hellscape where those unfortunates who took Mr. D’s offer are seen being tortured in magical one-way mirrors. 
     Johnny is whisked back to the upstairs room to face Mr. D, who repeats his proposition, and even offers up a guitar.  Johnny responds by throwing the guitar back in Mr. D’s face, which somehow causes the castle to blow up.

The Direction 
     It’s pointless, I guess, to criticize the fact that this film has little in the way of a story, and that the protagonist is a total nonentity--it’s an IMAX movie, after all, and the emphasis from the start is on visual razzle-dazzle.  In this area the film is fairly impressive, even if it does often look an awful lot like a PC game (not having seen it in its intended ultra-big screen venue, I can’t say how it looks there).  The 3-D computer animation is no longer state of the art, however!
     HAUNTED CASTLE is also interesting in that it accomplishes something filmmakers from Orson Wells to Francis Ford Coppola have pondered for years: it’s visualized almost entirely from a single individual’s point of view.  In this way it closely resembles the “Ride Films” popular during the eighties and nineties (best represented by Disney’s STAR TOURS and Universal’s BACK TO THE FUTURE ride).  Unfortunately it also means a snail paced and often dull-as-dirt piece of filmmaking, as director Ben Stassen has to rely on excess camera movement (which I imagine would make for a lot of strobing on a big screen) without the benefit of editing to help him along.  I’m also none too thrilled about the crappy pop tunes that permeate the film, from the Belgian kid bands Arid (whose lead singer plays the lead role) and Lunascape, proving that the whole thing is aimed at a 15-year-old mentality.


Vital Statistics 

HAUNTED CASTLE
nWave Pictures
 

Director/Screenwriter/Editor: Ben Stassen
Producers: Charlotte Huggins, Caroline Van Iseghem
Cinematography: Kommer Kleijn
Cast: Jasper Steverlinck, Kyoko Baertsoen, Harry Shearer
 


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