’s a familiar
storyline by now: The Internet has put entertainment, as we know it, at a
crossroads. Now that people can get music, books, and movies when they want it,
how they want it, and for whatever price (or none at all) they wish to pay, the
big money firms/studios/labels that previously were gatekeepers to this stuff
are stymied. The music industry got it first and the worst primarily because it’s
one of the easiest-to-exchange commodities, especially with the twin towers of
MP3s and file-sharing. So while record labels sat on their asses for years
dedicated to little else but selling CDs instead of music itself in a variety
of convenient forms, people took it upon themselves to migrate to the online marketplace
and ringtones for their increasingly fancy phones to get their aural fix. Now, the
music industry has to junk its dinosaur-esque business model or risk

The film
industry seems to be next in line in the online file-sharing sweepstakes, but
somebody’s been paying attention to what happened to the record labels, because
studios are at the very least entertaining
a variety of options to give people films in different ways besides just
watching something at a theater, waiting awhile and watching it on home video,
and and waiting even longer and then watching maybe again on cable. We’ve reported about digital 3-D theatrical productions, day-and-date PPV releases for major
motion pictures, and a variety of other ideas to keep you from torrenting this week’s releases. Now, Joel Silver is adding
another to the pile: interactive films.

It’s not
a brand new concept. In the mid-90s, there was a theatrical “interfilm”
experiment known as Mr. Payback where audiences would go to a specially-equipped
auditorium with button-laden seats that would allow them to “vote” on certain
character actions and fates such as whether anyone involved in this idea should
ever be employed again (they mostly voted “no” there). Surprisingly, it
cratered and took the concept to oblivion with it, although you could argue
that test screenings are a more brutal, lo-fi take on the idea. Since then, we’ve
seen DVDs with branching features that allow access to a few deleted scenes in the
flow of the film, but there still hasn’t been an interactive film in some
time. Silver’s Dark
banner is looking
to change that somewhat with the HD-DVD version of Return to House on Haunted Hill,
one of several new titles he’ll help to churn out for the Warner Premiere
direct-to-DVD line.

With the
HD release of this movie, you’ll have access to “navigational technology” that
allows you to make a whopping seven major choices that will ultimately lead to
approximately 90 different versions of the film, but I have it on good
authority that none allow the black guy to live, so don’t get crazy
with your expectations. And, as Sean Connery as Sir August De Wynter in The
might say, Thish ish
meeeerelythe beginning!

Silver wants
to embrace the Internets by producing “original online content” to complement
their releases along with wireless add-ons (Screw the iPhone. I want a Thir13en
-branded Razr 2 with F. Murray Abraham ringtones aplenty) to
boot. While it may seem a little gimmicky, horror has a pretty rich history
with gimmicks and new technologies, and if ever there was a genre that wouldn’t
be degraded by experiementation in this area, this would be it. As I’ve opined
before, I don’t think any number of gimmicks will make up for the degradation
of the theatrical experience, but realistically, no major studio will be able
to ignore a viable revenue stream, and this may qualify. Do I think it’ll start
a new genre? No. With videogaming advancing in aesthetics/production values daily, the line
between “interactive film” and “killer app Xbox 360 title” is razor-thin
already and likely to disappear as digital convergence settles in. But it’s
good to see people from the film side of the equation making inroads here. I
certainly don’t want true blue filmmakers to be burdened with making a “democratic”
version of their work – well, no more so than they already are. But if studios
want to create low-rent content (read: product…for the kids) for home video,
then why not have some fun with it? I wouldn’t care a whit about another
brainless horror sequel otherwise. At least now, I’m mildly curious. That’s an
improvement, folks.