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Helen Mirren has done well over 100 movies. She kicked some ass in Red. She was in the horribly reviewed Love Ranch, opposite Joe Pesci, where she ran a cat house. Yet she’s never been in a movie about a haunted house. And this seemed like the perfect one, since it’s based on a few real events.  

The Winchester house in San Jose, California, is a tourist attraction that many consider haunted. It was built by Sarah Winchester, who owned half of the Winchester rifle company after her husband died and left it to her. After the death of a young daughter, there are some that said she felt cursed by the spirits of those who died from the guns her company made.

This fictional story takes place in 1906, and Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke from Everest, Terminator Genisys, and the interrogator in Zero Dark Thirty) is a therapist hired to see if Sarah Winchester is sane enough to run the company. He’s got his own demons (see what I did there?). His wife died, and he was clinically dead for 3 minutes. Now he has orgies and is addicted to opium. Nothing like having a bad trip at a haunted house and seeing people in mirrors.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Co. doesn’t like the new ideas Sarah has for the company, and the fact that she constantly has construction crews at her house, make them think they’ll have enough reason to push her out of the company. She’s under the belief that spirits give her blueprints to build various rooms, and when they act up, she boards them up in the rooms to keep them secure. And I thought my mom was mean sending me to bed without dinner.

As you’d expect, the spirits don’t all stay locked up. It’s a cool visual to see the 13 nails being pushed out of the wood when they want out.

It’s unfortunate that it’s so hard to do a horror movie without all the cliches. This one gave us those weird zombie eyes, rocking chairs with nobody in them, creaky floors, but also a few solid jump scares. At times, you’ll think of The Omen, Shining, Amityville Horror, and the Sixth Sense.

Dr. Price, and the construction crew, aren’t the only ones at the house. Winchester’s niece (Sarah Snook of The Glass Castle) and her young son are living there, after they suffered a loss. That means we get to see the kid look under beds, peak into closets, and chase after a rolling skate that slides across the room. Again, all creepy images that work well enough. The writer/directors — Australia’s Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Jigsaw) could’ve done worse. And they have a solid cast (and cool house) to work with. When they were building a rifle room in the house, to display all the guns the company carries, I couldn’t help thinking this was a horror film that Ted Nugent would love. It’s unfortunate that most horror fans will be a bit bummed there wasn’t more to this.

I have to also give a mention to the hysterical Taco Bell commercial that ran before the movie. It was for their “nacho fries” and they designed it like a movie trailer. My wife and I were cracking up over it. I might be making a run to the border, before I find my way to San Jose.

The movie gets 2 stars out of 5. The Taco Bell commercial — 4 stars!

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