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