Blu-ray Review: Winchester

STUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: The Spierig Brothers | CAST: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Eamon Farren, Sarah Snook, Laura Brent
RELEASE DATE: May 1, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $14.96, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $19.96
BONUSES: featurette
SPECS: PG-13 | 99 min. | Horror | 2.39:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

The spooky Winchester House of San Jose, California is front and center of Winchester, a gothic horror yarn by the Germany-born, Australia-raised twin Spierig brothers (Predestination, Daybreakers).

Built in the late 19th Century, the historic structure contains 160 rooms, stairs that lead nowhere and walls that greet you when you open a door. Behind the house, which became a major tourist attraction, was the real-life Sarah Lockwood Winchester (Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky), wife of William Winchester, who inherited the Winchester Rifle Company fortune after he died. It is she who oversaw the bizarre and seemingly never-ending additions to the home.

According to the film and legend, the widow Winchester believed the house to be haunted by the victims of Winchester-manufactured weapons. Woven into the narrative  are two additional stories, one about a drug-addicted psychiatrist (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty), who’s been promised a healthy bonus by weapon company stockholders if he decides the lady Winchester should be committed to a mental facility, and another about the ghost of a Confederate soldier (Eamon Farren, Mohawk) haunting the premises.

The premise of this period tale is a fascinating one, and the Spierigs make the best of the locale—they actually shot for a few days in the real home and used a sprawling set for the rest of the production.

Despite the presence of the Oscar-winning Mirren and the impressive visuals, the film disappoints in the scare department, relying on cheap PG-13 jump scares to put a chill in audiences. While the filmmakers should be applauded for taking a moody, atmospheric approach to the material a la 1963’s The Haunting or 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, the film sadly lacks in the fright department and may exasperate viewers expecting more banging shocks for their buck.

Reportedly produced on a low-budget, Winchester actually did well theatrically, taking in $25 million-plus at the box office. Those seeking more subtle thrills from their terror tales than the “slice-and-dice” theatrics offered in films like the filmmakers’ recent Jigsaw, will appreciate this change-of-pace effort, while hardcore horror fans will likely be disenchanted by the more subdued approach.

Buy or Rent Winchester

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.