THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE aka ALTAR

3.5 out of 10

Release Date: 27th February (DVD Premiere)

Director: Nick Willing (Photographing Fairies)

Cast: Olivia Williams, Matthew Modine, Antonia Clarke, Adam Thomas Wright, Stephen Chance, Jonathan Jaynes, Richard Dillane and Steve Oram

Writer: Nick Willing

Trailer: THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE

poster227x227-1Talented actress Olivia Williams (RUSHMORE) must have owed someone a serious favour to have said yes to appear in this clunky haunted house movie. There’s nothing at all special about this ordinary yet confusing horror movie. Also spare a thought for once-great actor Matthew Modine (THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) who must have been Hollywood black-listed at some point, as he looks sheepish and embarrassed to be a part of the film too.

Olivia Williams and her family are staying in the titular haunted house whilst she renovates it. The locals are superstitious and won’t help her because it’s the sight of a weird cult killing about a century earlier. She finds a secret room with a mosaic that showcases a map of the human soul. They surmise that it was a former temple. A cracked fountain and a bottle of fizzy vimto also have a key part to play in proceedings as Williams attempts to keep the house from becoming part of a ridiculous prophecy / curse. Her husband, played by Modine is first to succumb as he begins to sculpture an image of a woman who was sacrificed in the house years a before.

With the presence of such well-established actors I was tempted to give this one the benefit of the doubt. It’s a short way in that all my good will was used up. First of all the two children must have come from ‘rent a son or daughter from the casting director.com’ as they are both terrible and are expected to carry quite a bit of the weight of the daft plot. Situations and twists are telegraphed by the boombastic soundtrack and and it same time it offers nothing new. Steve Oram (BAD EDUCATION) shows up in a pointless scene as a ghostbuster-cum-plumber who on discovering that the house really is haunted runs off scared. If every movie ghostbuster did this then cinema would be a very dull place.

The house and location is fairly creepy and you get a good sense of geography in the film and setting the film during a wet autumn on the Yorkshire Moors was a canny idea. I’m afraid that’s where invention stopped, with the location managers. Show pieces contain a demonic car, a bottle of fizzy pop and the obligatory walled off room and cellar. Details of what exactly happened in the past remain scant throughout the running time, so the sense of disorientation only serves to bewilder not intrigue. The ghosts – viewed through smashed glass do little to scare as they show too much too soon  breaking a cardinal rule of film scariness….

3.5 out of 10 – Disappointing mess that isn’t scary and doesn’t make that much sense either. Sad to see such great actors squander their time with such predictable and boring crap like this.

Additional review by Joe Pesci II aka Matt Usher below.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE aka ALTAR

  1. THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE – review by Joe Pesci II

    Sometimes a film-maker can spend years, decades even, trying to get an idea, a vision, from inside his/her head and onto screen. It can be a lonely and thankless task but the achievement is in itself, well, an achievement. The problem with THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFFE HOUSE is why anyone thought there was anything worth filming in the first place. I’ve been trying for three weeks or more to say something about this inoffensive, twee, grey, bland, tediously derivative film, and the more I think about it the more I marvel at how something so utterly lacking in life could get made. There is no big idea on show, no clever twist (the twist ending we do get is unintentionally funny), no compelling story, the characters are stock characters (feisty mom, mad dad, feisty daughter, dumb son), there are no interesting innovations or clever visual effects, there is absolutely nothing to warrant getting the film made.

    It feels like an exercise in recycling – if those involved were rookies just trying stuff out then that might be fair enough (compare the much more interesting though very flawed THE SLEEPING ROOM which at least has some ideas and enthusiasm on view), but this is made by experienced hands. Maybe that’s the problem, maybe these are cynical film-makers who just took the lowest common denominator route and threw together a ghost film into which they chucked every trope, arc, cliché, gimmick, fake scare they could think of, shook it together, stood back, hoped for the best, then just walked away from it without bothering to see how it came out.

    It starts well enough with a standard premise. Olivia Williams stars as a house-renovator who whisks her moody family off to deepest Yorkshire (a bit of Yorkshire where they still seemingly believe in sorcery as a matter of course) in order to do up a long-abandoned Scary Country House of Mystery and Spookiness. Meanwhile moody frustrated charlatan artist husband Matthew Modine mooches miserably about, looking and behaving like an older, sadder version of Shaggy, perhaps after Scooby finally made his way to the Mystery Machine in the sky. They have a couple of moody children in tow (for a large portion of the film I believed them both to be daughters – that is not the case, I apologise unreservedly to the young lad).

    Unsurprisingly the teenage daughter is the first to run into the ghost (revealed unscarily far too early) but – guess what – no-one believes her. So she calls in a ghostbuster (played with stoical detachment by Steve Oram) who is interesting because I couldn’t decide if he was meant to be a charlatan out of his depth, or a genuine psychic out of his depth. Either way he scarpers after less than five minutes and is a terrible advertisement for both ghostbusters and plumbers. Meanwhile odd things occur, including a bottle of pop getting over-excited (this I cannot explain), and a disconnected phone ringing in a room that supposedly hasn’t been disturbed since before telephones were invented (the odd thing as far as the cast are concerned being the phone not being connected, rather than it being there at all). Meanwhile Modine gets his mojo back after pricking his thumb and getting infected with the spirit of the ghostly villain. He starts working odd hours, making a clay model of a woman who may be his wife, the ghost, or both. Modine and Williams

    share the only decently disturbing moment in the film when he’s massaging her back and decides it might be interesting to use his own blood for the purpose, much to his wife’s dismay. It’s the only moment in the film where the film-makers seem to be trying something which is new (I guess), pertinent to the situation, and genuinely strange. Otherwise it’s standard shocks and scares all the way.

    Ghost stories have two jobs: intrigue and frighten. This film shows its ghost far too early, and its story, one of possession and desire, is dealt with in a surprisingly perfunctory way. The only thing that really intrigues is what the bottle of pop was doing there. Was it a modern-day version of the genie in the lamp? There are lots of loose ends and red herrings (kinder reviewers might suggest this relates to the idea of the ghost story as nineteenth century Romantic literature, but personally I think it’s just incompetence. Or laziness). That the film doesn’t depend on special effects or gore or prosthetics is a theoretical plus. Unfortunately that means the film depends on atmosphere, spookiness, clever filming, committed acting, intelligent use of music, and a story simultaneously twisty, credible and disturbing. These elements are for the most part absent. This goes through the motions like a Malcolm MacDowell / David Warner Europudding.

    Purely in technical terms it’s passably done: the camera whirls merrily about, the score pounds along, the production design is good. It just doesn’t add up to anything. The actors are variable: Williams is excellent in an underwritten role, Modine glowers a lot, as if he’s really the ghost (ooh – maybe that was the idea?), their children aren’t great (and giving them the final shot of the film was a terrible idea). I guess (if I’m being charitable) that the film was meant to be like a BBC M R James adaptation, or those old ghost story at Christmas films. But those were strong on atmosphere and mystery; this looks too tidy to be a decent ghost story, it’s brightly lit but still manages to leave us in the dark. THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE is a shrugging so-what of a film. This is the absolute epitome of a blandly inoffensive scary film made for people who don’t like scary films so they can say they watched one once. Bits of it are passable but there’s no sign that anyone was interested in this story, or even interested in making a film, it might as well have ‘contractual obligation’ stamped all over it.

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