11/13/01: "Haunted Castle" 3-D DVD Debuts

"Haunted Castle," film maker Ben Stassen's 3-D Large Format entertainment film has made its long awaited 3-D DVD debut. The film, latest in a group of n'Waveproduced giant screen 3-D projects, which includes "Encounters in the 3rd Dimension" and "Alien Adventure" is available in a package that includesall three titles and is bundled along with 2 pair of wired glasses and junction box manufactured by IO Display Systems, LLC..or separately without the glasses.In the stand alone versions of these films, an insert offers 2 pair of wireless glasses available from IO at 50% off the retail price. IO has recommended that 3-D viewing can only be accomplished via CRT monitors and will work in both ntsc and on 100Hz capable TV sets (now the rage in Europe). [Remark by stereo3d.com: Most likely it won't work on the vast majority of european 100Hz sets.] For those where money is no object, there are 3-D breakout boxes and 3-D projection gear available to view these films utilizing polarized glasses. The distributor is Slingshot Entertainment, which is also offering another large format live action aerial 3-D title, "Ultimate G's" (worth seeing for the footage) as a stand alone DVD item.

"Haunted Castle" had created some controversy in its large format release, due to depictions of torture and a beheading, the decapitation not actually seen on camera. No big deal here, nothing you can't see in a funhouse or at an amusement park, possibly even tamer than that form of experience ("Haunted Castle" ultimately received a PG Rating).The film's plot, what there is of it, concerns a young rock musician Johnny (Arid lead singer Jasper Sterverlinck) who has been summoned to his deceased mother's castle. She was a famous rock star (seen as a ghost and played by Belgium rock star Kyoko Baertsoen). Upon entering the castle, he is greeted by several ghostly figures, including a character named Mephisto, voiced by veteran actor Harry Shearer (who also voices the character of "Mr. D" in the film). Mephisto is the spokesman for Mr. D, assumed here to be the head of "The Organization" - and housed in the castle. Seems that Johnny's mother had made a pact with Mr. D in order to become successful and in doin g so, had sent the then 3 year old Johnny far away, we assume not to share the same fate as his mother.

 For the most part, we are then transported into the CGI animated Castle, where numerous objects, including guitars and other musical instruments leap off the screen. And while Stassen, in an accompanying 'Director's Commentary' indicates that none of the footage here was intended to be recycled into a ride film, "Haunted Castle" has the feel of being an extended ride film, and it would be fun to actually be in a large format theatre to experience this film on motion simulation seats. As it is, Mr. D (think the devil)wants Johnny to make a pact, which will assure his place in rock history while making the musician one of his subjects. How Johnny gets out of this mess is predictable and we have seen most of this before in other more fleshed out horror pics.What really makes "Haunted Castle" fascinating to watch is the films' innovative use of stereoscopic 3-D computer animation. Except for a couple of shots of Steverlinck, Baertsoen and the rock group Arid (under some interesting but unreadable end titles) there are no live action shots. For the most part, Johnny's adventures in the castle are seen from his point of view, think the classic Robert Montgomery MGM film "Lady In the Lake" as a possible inspiration. In this respect, the animation takes us down hallways, into various chambers and into the bowels of the castle itself, making the castle the real "star" of this film. The extended CGI animated tracking shots within the castle itself are truly something to behold and would have been prohibitive to shoot in live action for it's originally intended release.

"Haunted Castle" was designed to be seen on Imax and other large format screens, and, as many large format films have made their way to home video formats, Slingshot Entertainment has taken a bold step to bring this and the other 3 3-D titles to DVD in a field-seqeuntial 3-D format, as well as the inclusion of a 2-D (flat) version, a 2-D and 3-D virtual image gallery (stills), theatrical trailers, a brief documentary on the making of...and so on. Of particular interest is Stassen's commentary, an optional voice-over which can be heard over both the 3-D and 2-D versions of this film. The transfers are fine, color is well defined at the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks add to the enjoyement of this film. Slingshot has elected to go full frame for this version - but probably could have offered this in wide screen. The decision to go with 4x3 aspect ratio may have had something to do with adhering to the convergence requirments of the large format release. [Remark by stereo3d.com:  the IMAX format has an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 which is close to 4:3, so there's no need to go widescreen/anamorphic for the DVD-transfer.] The bigger the screen, in this instance, the better the a ctual 3-D experience. The flicker we have all become accustomed to, is still evident, but nonetheless an improvement over VHS viewing.

Slingshot Entertainment has chosen to underplay the 3-D aspects of this and the other 3-D titles, the average person not looking for 3-D in this instance may not even realize that the films are available to view in 3-D unless they read the back cover of the stand alone versions. More noticeable at the top of the front and back of the packaging is "Originally Presented in IMAX (c) Theatres" This may be due to the fact that there are still a great number of individuals that may not be interested in the 3-D format, or have other issues about 3-D movies in general.

While "Haunted Castle" may not necessarily be considered by many to be a masterpiece, it should, along with the other 3-D titles, be a "must own" for 3-D aficionados. Field-sequential VHS 3-D videos (some legitimate offerings and some bootlegged) have been around for about 5 years, but the quality and content has been severely lacking and most of that group of titles have only been available via the internet, but not at retail outlets, so the availability of this group of titles is something of a breakthrough for 3-D fans - and, based on the potential popularity of this group of large format 3-D films, hopefully will signal similar releases of other large format 3-D titles as well as many of the classics that were created in the 1950's. Those of you who read this should, in a nice way, contact the distributors of these classics, including Universal Home Video, Warner Brothers, MGM, Turner Classics (which controls all of the RKO titles), Paramount Home Video, Columbia Pictures, BATJAC, etc.to request 3-D versions of their 3-D libraries to be released in 3-D on DVD.  In most instances, the right and left eye negatives still exist. The success of the current offerings could eventually signal the release of more 3-D films on DVD in the foreseeable future.

On the 3-D DVD horizon for 2002, Anchor Bay Home Video is rumored to be planning to offer a cult favorite 1982 3-D title in field sequential format, "Parasite" - possibly in letterbox - and featuring the feature film debut of a then unknown Demi Moore. For now, we have the nWave titles, and while only "Haunted Castle" was available for review, the real "must see/gotta have it" item in that package has to be "Encounters in the 3rd Dimension" which covers the history of 3-D, has some outstanding visual effects, including comedic horror star Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson (a special effect in her own right), Stuart Pankin (of SCTV fame) and a rather amusing flying robot. The stereoscopic virtual sets and the accompanying computer animation in this film are nothing short of phenominal and the film has a whimsical quality not experienced in the other three offerings.

###Review written by Jim Krisvoy, 3-D Marketing/ Consultant(c) 2001 Jim Krisvoy