Film Review: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

SYNOPSIS:

A millionaire offers a group of diverse people $1,000,000 to spend the night in a haunted house with a horrifying past.

REVIEW:

The movie “House on Haunted Hill” has always been a guilty pleasure for me. I can’t express as much enthusiasm on the sequel (Return to House on Haunted Hill), but as a viewer, (and at the time of seeing this in theatres) it just held all the right elements that I found entertaining.

“House on Haunted Hill” is a 1999 remake of the William Castle film by the same name that debuted in 1959. With a hipper cast of celebrities, a much more impressive load of special effects, and a comedic tone slammed up against its horror base , “HOHH” was promised as quite a package. Now directed by William Malone “HOHH” was a flag ship debut under Dark Castle Entertainment. You can feel Dark Castle’s influence if we mention 2 of their other “later” films “House of Wax” and “Thirteen Ghosts“.

For starters, I really can’t review this film without mentioning “that” ultra cool intro title sequence created by the equally cool title sequence company, “The Picture Mill”. It was very appropriate for the times when title sequences were really receiving alot of press and focus. Those jittery images, stop motion rope segments and creepy little micro images welcoming us into this fun little haunt of a piece.

Following in the old school trend of setting us up for a haunted location long abandoned, (but still ripe for a challenge) we are introduced to the asylum, the “Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane” formally under the mad controversial experimentation leadership of Dr. Richard B. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs). Closed in 1931 after an outbreak and patient riot, the building was better equipped with iron gates and lock down procedures. Though the event left many deceased setting the stage for a variety of lost souls and eerie haunts to remain within its cold walls.

Speaking of, “HOHH” provides a perfect setting for a special effects driven spook show with plenty of shaky head demons and vengeful spirits floating around claiming lives and scaring the crap out of everyone else. Which brings us to the challenge at hand. Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) deemed an “amusement park mogul” devises a invitation-only scenario with the assistance of his spoiled sour wife Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen) at the abandoned building. Fancying a party atmosphere, 5 invites show up, (who were not on the list) welcomed regardless, with the offer of $1 million to each who can spend the night and survive until morning.

The cast which really provides a fantastic base of acting talent includes: Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), Melissa Margaret Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Jennifer Jenzen (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), and Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher). Watson Pritchett is the acting owner of the location played by the hilariously-ackward-serious style e acting of Chris Kattan (of whom I’ll admit that this being one of my favorite roles he’s played). Fun fact: Singer Lisa Loeb provides a reporter cameo.

The house which has been pre-rigged with devices intended to spook the invites begins to show its true colors and the “darkness “that the location holds. The security gate are tripped, forcing everyone to spend the night whether they want to or not. Price with the aid of a few others begins the night with booby traps in place. However the events of the night roll out quite differently unleashing the weird and jittery elements within the asylum upon all. It is a mixture with fantastic set designs that correlate perfectly with these events.

Visually rich and other times just appropriately jarring, “HOHH” is sort of a roller coaster ride itself. Its weakest point seems to be the 3rd act which resorts to CGI scares that feel CGI. On that note, the film was not entirely embraced by horror audiences despite it also securing fans of its production (such as myself). I tend to believe that the production company “ark Castle” is also a movie style that is either loved or hated. As astute viewers might also recognize a similar feel and storyline to “Thirteen Ghosts”.

I am sticking with my impression which was that House on Haunted Hill” was hella fun to watch and entertaining. The star power behind this one much overshadowed its sequel with a higher quality of acting (and playfulness for that matter). I’d love to see Kattan take on more roles in this vein as his erratic acting style was a hoot to watch. I’d also like to see this one release don bluray soon seeing that its sequel has already been batched onto to 3 movies in one releases. Note: HOHH is available on bluray overseas at the time of this review.

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

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