The 1999 remake of William Castle’s (1959) House on Haunted Hill by William Malone was a very strange film, and not one I’d seen in a long time, possibly since its video store days. Going back, its quite “Nineties,” down to its techniques, ensemble cast (such as Famke Janssen, Ali Larter, singer Lisa Loeb, Jeffrey Combs, and Saturday Night Live comedian Chris Kattan), plucked eyebrows, and wardrobe.
It’s not a bad thing, but it’s interesting to see how some things have aged and how some haven’t.
Star Geoffrey Rush channeled original House on Haunted Hill headliner and horror movie icon Vincent Price quite well. The funny thing is, I learned that he was originally going for a John Waters vibe with the skinny mustache, but that he looked so much like Price that they went with that, and rightly so.
As in the 1959 original, a group of disparate people gather for a night of unknown terrors, and will be awarded a large sum if they make it through the night. Since it’s 40 years later, the amount of money is a cool million per person. The dangers are far more visceral and shocking, appropriately.
Rush (Stephen Price) and Janssen (Evelyn Price) step into the roles of the spouses who hate each other, with illusions to her cheating and trying to have him killed. Why they don’t get a divorce (no prenup, likely), I’m not sure, but it’s the reason we have a movie.
Anyway, all these guests that nobody invited show up, and since they’re not the guests that were expected, it’s a bit of a wet blanket on the festivities. The caretaker (played by Kattan in ultra-jittery mode), is eager to leave, but of course, it’s too late. The huge metal doors of the “house” shut them in. Unlike the original film, the house is now an enormous seaside asylum where a massive fire and massacre took place.
The head of this psychiatric institute for the criminally insane, Dr. Vannacut (Combs), was also a sadistic mass murderer, because this film is in gruesome, balls-to-the-wall Halloween mode — in case you didn’t pickup the tone immediately during the opening scene at Price’s amusement park.
As you would expect, creepy and murderous events occur, and it’s anyone’s guess who will make it out alive. As for the Blu-ray itself, this 2K scan looks amazing, and sounds great, too. It’s as if the film was brand new.
The extras are fun; I enjoyed listening to a very enthusiastic Malone discuss the project in his interview. It’s always fun when a filmmaker is joyous. There are also cool interviews with composer Don Davis and VFX supervisor Robert Skotak.
The deleted scenes are fun, but you can see why they were deleted in the end, not because of Debi Mazar or Ali Larter’s performances, but because they would have slowed the pace of the film down. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings. I enjoyed the vintage featurettes as well, especially the one that compared both versions of the House on Haunted Hill.
While the remake didn't hold up as much as I would have liked, it was still a fun time.
Check out Scream Factory's site here for more info and a trailer.