Film Review: House on Haunted Hill (1999)


1990s Hollywood practice of releasing films with similar themes in pairs included even remakes of classic ghost films. In 1999 The Haunting, film based on celebrated 1963 film by Robert Wise, was followed by House on Haunted Hill, film directed by William Malone and based on eponymous 1959 B-film that enjoyed cult status.

The plot begins when Steven H. Price (played by Geoffrey Rush), eccentric theme park mogul who made his wealth with ingenious ways to scare visitors, throws a birthday party for his unfaithful wife Evelyn (played by Famke Janssen). He decided to do it in an oldF huge remote house outside the city. Few more people are invited to house and offered 1 million US$ if they manage to spend the night there. Most of them believe this to be a joke, but not Watson Pritchett (played by Chris Kattan), neurotic owner of the house who claims that the place is haunted. In 1931 it used to be a mental hospital where cruel Dr. Vanacutt (played by Jeffrey Coombs) used to conduct all kinds of unethical experiments on patients before perishing in riot and fire. Although sceptical towards such claims, party goers become worried when they discover that the all exits from the house are locked. Now they have to fight for survival, although Evelyn keeps thinking it is just one of her husband’s pranks.

House on Haunted Hill was the first film made by Dark Castle Entertainment, studio named after William Castle, producer and director of 1959 version. Castle’s film, which starred horror genre legend Vincent Price and enjoys a cult status , is best known for its innovative marketing campaign which involved many gimmicks in theatres. Producers of new version tried to do the same and this strategy, to a degree, worked, with House on Haunted Hill having more than decent results at box office. Critics, on the other hand, were much colder towards the film. Most of complaints were addressed to director William Malone and his scriptwriter Dirk Beebe. Much of the dark humour was removed from the film and instead House on Haunted Hill looked very much like 1980s teen slasher film, only with horny teenagers being replaced with much older and usually dislikeable characters for whose ultimate fate viewers wouldn’t care much. The cast doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic for that roles and that includes even such formidable character actor like Geoffrey Rush who is light years before charisma of Vincent Price. Malone, on the other hand, invests some notable effort in creating specific atmosphere through production design and cinematography by Rick Botha. He also makes this horror film more adult, by aiming for R-rating and allowing House on Haunted Hill to feature foul language, violence, gore and even some nudity. Near the end everything degenerates into the orgy of special effects and the general impression is made worse by Marilyn Manson’s atrocious cover of “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, which, sadly, represents most memorable part of the film. In 2007 a direct-to-video under title Return to House on Haunted Hill was made.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

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