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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999) ***
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, and Bridgette Wilson Director: William Malone Running Time: 96 minutes Rated R (for strong terror violence and gore, language and brief nudity)
By Blake French:
It's been such a long time since I have been truly terrified by a movie that is supposed to be scary. To my pleasant surprise, however, "The House on Haunted Hill," did scare me out of my wits at times. Curiously, I find myself disliking the film because of the flawed characters and structure, yet recommending it due to the enticing and thrilling material contained within the tension-filled story line.
The first thing I would like to do in reviewing "The House on Haunted Hill," is compare and contrast it with the milder horror flick released earlier this year called "The Haunting." That film surprised America with an unexpected PG-13 rating, unlike the appropriately R-rated "The House on Haunted Hill." Although "The Haunting" did work due to an intriguing story line, it missed the fact that in order to please an audience attending a scream-feast, it needs to do some experimenting with its atmosphere, characters, and antagonism so we know what we're up against. That film had little to no violent, gory, or shocking material, only contained marginally passable psychological terror. That is the main reason why that very film, directed by Jon De Bont, didn't manage to become a memorable summer movie experience.
Unlike "The Haunting," "The House on Haunted Hill," is not afraid to graphically pick off its characters one by one in a grizzly manor to provoke horrifying fright in an audience. It is great fun to predict who is going to be next to go and how they'll be murdered. Personally, I've been longing for this kind of material for quite some time now.
This film does, however, have a lot in common with "The Haunting." For example, both movies are shot in somewhat of an old-fashioned style--an effective characteristic. Both offer quite a bit of scary material. But "The House on Haunted Hill" seems to be more of an ambitious, if flawed, thriller. The story centers on a clan of five strangers who each are offered one million dollars if they spend the night in a closed-down Psychiatric Institute that was massacred by its own patients after a rebellion in the 1930's. In charge of this whole arrangement, a twisted and rich theme park owner, Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush), and his wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen), who have been experiencing marital problems for some time now. They're throwing together this party for Price's birthday, but when an elaborate and efficient security system traps them in, weird events begin to occur. Things that may or may not be part of an intricate plan to induce money, murder, and survival.
What, or who, is responsible the unusual assurances at the institute? How did the guest list of the party mysteriously alter itself? What is happening to everyone if this entire situation is a prank? Are these characters that stupid? What exactly is the instate haunted by? Why did the patients rebel in the 30's, and not sooner? Their motives are clear, but why wait so long to do something about the hell accruing because of their doctors? "The House on Haunted Hill" is not the movie to answer these questions. Neither is it the film educated enough to properly develop an explanation of the characters to us. Stephen Price is developed well in one of the film's first scenes. But for the rest of the characters, each of them saying their name and what they do for a living doesn't quite cut it here. Because of this, the movie's many plot and character twists aren't as effective as they should be, because we don't know the characters to begin with. So if the movie tries to tell us that someone is not who they appear to be, how are we supposed to believe it--we never really knew who they were from the beginning?
Also to this film's dismay, the direction is all over the wall here. William Malone does a good job of focusing on each of the scary elements, but not on the characters. When they walk slowly down a dark deserted hallway, they seem to get off focus of where they really are and the circumstances they are in. Also nearly crucifying the production: there aren't any boundaries here. Seemingly anything and everything can happen. At least "The Haunting" had some guidelines of where reality is taken into account.
The Psychiatric Institute is a perfect, terrifying atmosphere for this movie to be placed in. The fact that the strange and seemingly dangerous occurrences could be part of Price's trickery, or something else on that matter, just strengthens the drama more and increase the line of raising tension. The filmmakers take advantage of most of the opportunities they receive to use the house's many dark hallways and creepy chambers. In particular, there is a especially disturbing sequence in a chamber, which is supposed to make an insane man sane, or a sane man insane, that produces such a horrifying perspective of a character's mind, it is almost safe to say the filmmakers went too far over the edge here.
I also find to my liking the film's performances, which are creative and full of energy. Geoffrey Rush is a great stuck up fraud, and he is able to accomplish much with his character due to his wonderfully fresh development, unlike the other characters. Famke Janssen ("Deep Rising," 1998) I also am surprised to enjoy, in a sly, conniving role. Taye Diggs can't really do much in this type of movie, he is more fit in films like "The Best Man," or "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," but what he does seems underplayed. Who really stands out here is the always appealing Peter Gallagher, who brings a hidden regularity to his character. But regardless of his character, he doesn't scene-steal, nor does he overact.
"The House on Haunted Hill" may be a very flawed film, but at lest it serves its purpose: to provoke fear in an audience. It is a very close call for me, recommending the film or not, and a medium review is given. Someday I might regret my decision to warrant "The House on Haunted Hill" with a minor recommendation. But as of this day and age, I feel obligated to.
Brought to you by Warner Bros.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This remake of William Castle's cult horror from 1958 is a reasonably
good update, deliberately designed as something of a Ghost Train ride.
It's fun and has creepy 20s flashbacks galore, throws in plenty of
blood and adds a plot twist or two to the original story.
The plot concerns Geoffrey Rush's amusement park entrepreneur inviting a small number of guests he's never previously met to his wife's birthday party, intending to host it in a disused asylum that was the scene of a terrible tragedy. However the couple hate each other with a passion and each may be planning to murder the other before the night is over. To add to the fun, the guests who turn up were not the ones he invited, though he has offered each a million dollars if they survive the night. It appears they are the descendants of those who died the first time around, and now the house won't let them out...
Rush's character, Steven Price, is surely a homage to good ol' Vincent of that ilk, and super-hero fans can enjoy the sight of Famke Janssen from X-Men and Ali Larter from Heroes amongst the cast. The flashback sequences are excellent, and appear to have had an influence on games like Bioshock; and the old, creepy crypts of the house are genuinely unsettling. House On Haunted Hill has excellent production design, and it's always great to see Jeffry Combes show up as the sinister Doctor. There are flaws, however. The characters are not particularly well-developed, so we don't care what happens to most of them much, and the story is very diffuse, not focusing on anything in detail before moving on to the next set piece. But House isn't bad as horror remakes go - in fact it matches the original, and is bound to keep the gore hounds happy. Recommended as good roller coaster ride.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even the worst of movies can have perfect scenes. This poor one
one such. THIS IS A SMALL SPOILER. When the hapless woman played by
Bridgette Wilson goes out for a walk looking around the house through the
camrecorder and sees the torturous Dr Vannacutt and the twisted nurses
vivisecting the patient, it's sure an awesome moment when the evildoers
to look at her. Hitchcock never reached such a level of
It's descriptive of the movie that this scene is immediately exploited and wasted. I watched the flick on cable for five times
and was glued to the screen every time Melissa Margaret Marr goes out for a stroll.
I was hoping that 'House on Haunted Hill' was going to be better than 'The
Haunting', but this is even worse. It's supposed to be a big ride into
horror, but it's not. The director tries to create some 'disturbing' images,
but the timing is always wrong and the way things are shot stresses out his
lack of craftsmanship. It might scare some kids, but it's not for the horror
fans. The characters' background is not developed at all, so it's not even
interesting to watch the movie for the sake of the story. At least 'The
Haunting' had some well developed characters, which made it
Well, I believe that if 'House on Haunted Hill' or even 'The Haunting' were filmed in the 80's, they would have been a lot more successful in their goal (which is to scare the audience). Maybe it's the digital age that it's not suitable for horror movies yet (was 'The Mummy' scary at all?), but maybe it's just the lack of talent of some directors.
You want to see something scary and disturbing? Watch 'Hellraiser'!
I saw the trailer for this film at the cinema and was impressed by the special effects. When i actually watched the film on DVD this week i soon realised that the decent special effects featured on the trailer were in fact the only special effects in the film. Though i quite like the original, i absolutely hated this movie, and if it is true that Dark Castle productions are indeed planning to remake a whole host of William Castle movies then i hope they do a better job! The script was perhaps the worst i have witnessed in a long time, the characters were all so instantly annoying that i found my self wishing them dead with in the first fifteen minutes. It actually took me two sittings to watch the movie, it was either that or i would have found myself fast forwarding through it. The plot, what there is of it, doesn't make much sense and the film doesn't explain why certain things are happening, Price's wifes relationship with one of the guests for example. This movie was so bad i ended up feeling frustrated and cheated, it actually made me so angry. Avoid this like the plague.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before I can begin to review the "remake" of House on Haunted Hill, we must first throw the plot, effects, and script out the window, because the movie does a pretty good job of that by itself. The only reason (and there really isn't ANY) that you should see this film is for the performances by three lovely and talented actresses: Ali Larter, Famke Janssen, and especially Bridgette Wilson. They make the film worthwhile, or at least the scenes that they're in. [SPOILER ALERT!!] The main reason I wanted to see this movie was because one of my favorite actresses, Bridgette Wilson, was in it and I was excited about seeing her camping it up in a horror movie like she did a few years ago in I Know What You Did Last Summer. And sure enough, there she is, with video camera in hand as pseudo-celebrity Melissa Margaret Marr, the best dressed and biggest ego of the group. Just when I think the movie might not be so bad with her in it, what happens? She dies! That's right. Within the first forty-five minutes, Bridgette Wilson is already gone and there's nothing left but Famke Janssen, who does all she can as Geoffrey Rush's psychotic wife before she herself too, dies, and Ali Larter, who deserves so much better than this movie and can be seen in a much better movie right now, Final Destination. As for the scares, puh-leese. The only frightening thing is that people still pay to see movies like this. The cheesy original was scarier, anyway, and had more fun with its cast. Nothing is truly scary at all, although it is a little gruesome at times. So while I wait for Bridgette Wilson to do another horror film, I'll have to say that HOHH is one of the worst movies I have EVER seen.
Whether you see this movie as a psychological thriller or as a 'splatter',
this movie just doesn't cut it.
The story has a few good lines where you think "this might lead to
interesting", but they all fall flat. It leaves you with the feeling that
something is missing, especially the ending is disappointing.
Who killed who, and why? I don't remember, and I don't care.
5/10 (Only because Famke Janssen is a babe and she's in it)
Geoffrey Rush is one of my favorites to go from Shine to this was truly a huge step down. Thanks to "Quills" (excellent movie!) he came back again. This movie should have been on MST3k if they were still on. This was boring, predictable & most of all it was just an over all blah. It was a one time movie. If you want to see a good old fashioned ghost story watch "What Lies Beneath" that's a good movie. This was just plain dumb. It reminded me much of the "Scream" junk out there. I still go for more "Hellraiser", "Carrie" I know this isn't horror, but "Alien" still makes me jump. Basically if want to see something good don't see this. Read a good Clive Barker book or something that makes you jump. I only watched it because I thought Geoffery Rush would make it interesting. Not even he could that. It's sad, but even "Event Horizon" was better than this & that's saying something!
There is nothing about this film that is redeemable. The talents of Geoffrey Rush are completely wasted. This was the most ill-conceived concept for a film in recent history. I never saw the original, but I doubt it was this bad. If it weren't for the recognizable actors, I would think that a bunch of junior high kids slapped this travesty together. I highly recommend avoiding this film like the plague. I wish i could have the hour and a half of my life back that was wasted watching this heap of garbage.
WHAT EVER POSSESSED someone of the talent level of Geoffrey Rush to take such an awful role? The same question was there for Liam Neeson in yet another terrible remake of another horror classic, "The Haunting". It is not often that I stop to comment on terrible films, but this one really rubbed me wrong, as did the Neeson remake. Both are of classics from about the same period: Vincent Price starred in the former "House on Haunted Hill" in 1958, while "The Haunting" came out in 1963. Both are considered to be almost without equal, and their remakes, both in 1999, I would qualify as nothing short of disastrous...! How is it that H-wood honestly believes that special effects with haunted buildings (not to be confused with good old fashioned, but sadly passé, Ghost Stories) can replace good honest suspense...? Somebody really needs to explain it to me as people walked out of both films either laughing or disgusted; count me among the latter. Rating ONE star (of five)-- and for kindness only! Don't go see it, don't waste money on the video, flip the channel when it comes on cable, and say no to your friends when invited to see either of these HORROR-ible insults to past classic works.
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