A tour guide leading a group around the Winchester Mystery House on any given day probably provides more cheesy fun than “Winchester,” a movie set at the famed tourist trap.
Actually, there’s a scene in the film that resembles the tour. When a psychiatrist pays a visit to the Winchester mansion in 1906, he gets a guided trip to the sealed-off rooms and the staircases that lead nowhere, complete with references to possible ghostly visitors.
The doctor (played by Jason Clarke, lately seen in “Mudbound”) is at the Winchester house in San Jose to assess the sanity of its eccentric owner. She is Sarah Winchester, the inheritor of the great gun manufacturing fortune. And she is played, amazingly, by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren.
Now, I am not one of those people who scold actors for cashing in on their fame. If you can buy a vacation home by appearing in a terrible horror movie after a lifetime of working hard, I say go for it.
Besides, you can’t be certain a movie will be terrible before you make it. Although it’s hard to believe “Winchester” ever sounded good.
Mrs. Winchester’s perpetual building and re-building of her rambling mansion is meant to keep the ghosts away. She’s convinced that the violence caused by her late husband’s rifle company has created an army of poltergeists, most of whom reside in the house.
If you were ever fascinated by the real-life Winchester Mystery House when you were an adolescent (you better believe I was), you know that the home has windows with spider-web motifs and things arranged in groups of 13, according to the owner’s occult wishes.
That all gets mentioned in the movie, without conjuring up the slightest shiver. Meanwhile, directors Michael and Peter Spierig lean hard on the spooky-child routine, as Mrs. Winchester’s niece (Sarah Snook) has a son who wanders around the place like the second coming of that kid from “The Omen.”
Mirren plays it straight — a mistake. She’s letting down illustrious predecessors such as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who knew enough to play movies like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and “Strait-Jacket” to the hilt.
Clarke is a strong actor, but the doctor’s backstory about being addicted to laudanum goes exactly nowhere. He also plays second fiddle to the movie’s loud musical cues, which erupt whenever a maggot-eaten ghoul lurches into a shot — just often enough to keep the average viewer from falling asleep. Maybe.
“Winchester” (1 star)
A horror movie set around the real-life Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, with nowhere near the cheesy fun the premise might suggest. Weird things happen when a psychiatrist (Jason Clarke) visits eccentric Mrs. Winchester (Helen Mirren) in 1906, but the occult happenings aren’t enough to raise any serious shivers.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall