Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

“What good is a million dollars when you’re dead?”

In keeping with the ‘remakes’ theme of the weekend, I picked up a copy of Dark Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill for $2.97 at the local Bull Moose store. The clerk ran it through the de-scratcher twice, so I was a little worried it wouldn’t play, but it came through fine.

Bottom line – it was totally worth the three bucks.

There were a bunch of remakes of classic horror films in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. I actually kind of liked Thirteen Ghosts – mostly for Tony Shaloub, Matthew Lillard and the monster design – but the others were pretty awful. After House of Wax and The Fog I just kind of wrote them all off and never got around to seeing HoHH (even though it was the first of the bunch to be released).

Which was my loss, because it’s actually quite fun. There are not a lot of genuine scares to be had – everything’s a little too polished and tongue-in-cheek for that – but there are some good set pieces, fairly graphic gore, and decent special effects. The actors generally do a good job and the characters are not universally unlikeable (except for Christ Kattan, who is just excruciating to watch and listen to).

The basic plot is the same as the (much loved) original, where a group of strangers is invited to a haunted location as part of a rich woman’s birthday party. They’re offered a significant amount of money if they can survive the night in the house. Hijinks ensue.

I like the set design quite a bit, but it’s too polished and well-lit to be scary. Some of the jump scares and gore – particularly the ‘technician’ face reveal – are pretty good and there’s generally a nice atmosphere to things. Geoffrey rush is great, camping it up as the eccentric amusement park mogul – not quite up to Vincent Price’s level, but who is, really? Famke Janssen vamps her way through a thankless role and is quite fun as well. The rest are, as I said, likeable enough, but don’t make a huge impression as they’re picked off one by one. The most beautiful people are the ones that make it out alive of course, but at least they killed off Kattan’s character (nowhere near quickly enough for my taste). The final confrontation sequence is okay, but the CGI effects don’t work as well as the practical effects earlier on.

In the end I still like the original better, if only because I prefer the non-supernatural setup. That being said this is a million times better than the other remakes I mentioned earlier and well worth watching if it’s on TV, streaming or you can find it for $2.97.

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