Haunted Castle

on February 23, 2001 by Michael Tunison
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   NWave's 3D, computer-animated creepshow "Haunted Castle" proves that, yes, a large-format film can be just as mindless, uneducational and special effects-fixated as the average 35mm Hollywood genre picture. Too bad writer-director-executive producer Ben Stassen and company don't demonstrate storytelling know-how equal to their impressive technical virtuosity.

   The melancholy, needlessly complicated storyline follows young Goth-rocker Johnny (Jasper Steverlinck) as he explores the phantom-infested castle willed to him by his late mother, a popular singer from whom he had been long estranged. Seen always in long shots that emphasize the film's amazingly photorealistic backdrops, Johnny braves the company of animated suits of armor, his mom's singing ghost (Kyoko Baertsoen) and a chatty demon named Mephisto (voiced by "This is Spinal Tap's" Harry Shearer) on his way to unraveling the mystery of his family's connection to the diabolical "Mr. D" (Shearer).

   While Stassen's unengaging script detours into dramatic moments such as stock comic-book exchanges about Faustian bargains, the bulk of "Haunted Castle" is structured more like a virtual amusement park ride in the tradition of Disneyland's venerable "Haunted House" attraction than a traditional horror narrative. A lengthy tour of a hellish netherworld, for example, adopts the POV of a theme park-style rail car, giving the 3-D-goggled viewer glimpses of everything from scenes of graphic afterlife torture to a musical performance by a band of undead monkeys.

   On the technical level, Stassen and his animators certainly deliver some incredible imagery, hinting at the all-but-untapped possibilities the giant-screen, 3-D format offers for this sort of popcorn entertainment. Before moviegoers can enjoy the medium's full potential to spook and chill, however, they'll have to wait for a more emotionally involving story to come along. As scary movies go, "Haunted Castle" is all trick and no treat.    Starring Jasper Steverlinck, Kyoko Baertsoen and Harry Shearer. Directed and written by Ben Stassen. Produced by Caroline Van Iseghem and Charlotte Huggins. An nWave release. Horror. Rated PG for some frightening sensations and horror images. Running time: 38 min.

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